Jul 30

Last Friday I braved the distinctly un-British Mediterranean heat and headed up to the Smoke to spend a day in the company of V&A treasures. Get comfortable, it was a long day so this is a long post!

The morning passed treading well-worn (but somehow always fresh) paths through the galleries and halls of the main building. Via 13th century arches, Florentine gothic balconies and Japan kimonos, somehow I always end up in the theatre section which in the past has been something of a retreat for me. I switch off in there as you would in the real theatre, marvelling at the concepts and the mechanisms put into place to create the fantasy. This time around I spent some time gawping at the iconic original costumes worn by Adam Ant, Mick Jagger and Jimmy Page (Page: skinny, Goddard:  muscly thighs), and just around the corner like a curator’s version of Stella Street, was Kylie’s touring dressing room, all shiny and sheepskinny and lipstick scrawled mirror messages.

 

Jimmy Page stage costume

 

Adam Ant stage costume

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May 7

Like a proud parent, I thought I’d treat you to a sneaky peak of the book I completed last year which has now gone to print. Vintage Knit is a project book, the brainchild of graphic designer Marine Malak who won the ‘Best Student Book’ category of the British Book Design and Production Awards 2011 with her re-imagining of the 1940s Margaret Murray/Jane Koster classic ‘Knitting Illustrated’. Marine and I got together in the Laurence King offices in late 2012 and spent many happy hours going through patterns, discussing colours, yarns and styles … 25 projects and a year and a half later, the book is now due for release in August!

We’ve put together a great selection of projects, including 8 patterns for accessories (hats, socks, scarves etc), 14 sweater and cardigan patterns, and 3 larger projects (a beautiful dress, spectacular striped housecoat and a stylish ‘cuddle’ skirt). The patterns have been updated and graded for 34″, 36″, 38″ and 40″ bust sizes, using a wide range of accessible yarns. It was all beautifully shot in contemporary style in a North London studio and the garments were modelled by Marine’s ridiculously lovely friends. The styling might come as a surprise to some vintage fans – by no means is it slavish to the past; instead we’ve tried more to show how the designs and their classic details can still be relevant in 2014 without feeling that you have to buy into the whole vintage lifestyle. The colours are chosen from a modern palette (most obvious in the shocking pink and burnt orange of the twinset) and one of the book’s intentions is to hopefully capture a new audience of knitters, eager to put their own contemporary twist on the vintage look. Continue reading »

Dec 4

Are you lusting after your own copy of ‘Knit Back In Time’? Or do you know any knitters who might be? Forgive me while I wheel out that old cliché but since Christmas is a time for giving I’ve got two copies of ‘Knit Back In Time’ to give away to two lucky knitters. All you have to do is complete the entry form below to enter and a copy of this indispensable guide to adapting vintage knitting patterns could be yours … the deadline is midnight on Friday 13th December 2013, so get your skates on! This is a UK-based offer only, apologies to overseas folks.

Knit Back In Time is a step by step ‘how-to’ book, and reveals two crucial secrets for knitting vintage-style projects: how to update a vintage pattern to modern sizes and yarns, and how to customise modern patterns to give them a vintage look. It also provides patterns for vintage-style elements such as sleeves, collars and cuffs, and offers invaluable advice on mixing and matching sleeves, necklines and collars to create your own designs.

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Nov 28

One of the many advantages of running workshops in The Needlemakers is that I’m surrounded by vintage and antique specialists. Mark from Revive All was going through this Punch magazine and thought of me when he came across this Shell Chemicals ad – the image of the child knitting with intense concentration on her face is undeniably cute, and reminds me of the six small faces I teach every Wednesday (although to be honest there’s more chat than concentration going on!) But it’s the ad text that caught my attention – it’s a rather nice description of the child learning to knit, but it also tells us something about the evolution of yarn technology of the day.

It reads: “Sooner or later, Susie’s knitting has a habit of acquiring length without breadth, whatever the pattern. Just what it’s going to be at any given moment depends on the leaping imagination of its young creator. Knitted up or unravelled, that wool has been around for a long time. It has suffered in the cause of many a new project, but never has it suffered from moth. Because, like so much that is made of wool these days it is mothproofed with ‘Dielmoth.” (why didn’t they go the whole hog and just call it Diemoth?)  It goes on to invite those in the wool trade to contact Shell for more information.

It’s an interesting piece of marketing for Shell – for one, it stands out in the rather masculine setting of Punch, but it also struck me that knitting was still such a ubiquitous hobby that they’d consider place it smack in the centre of a campaign, happy to associate their advancing technology with yarn as one of its beneficial bi-products.

Although many of us also ‘suffer from moth’, I’m sure wool consumers would prefer to associate their wool with natural products such as happy sheep frolicking on the Shetland hillside rather than the chemical industry!

Nov 7

Managed to take some time off last week, and found ourselves hurtling under the Channel in a nostalgic search for flick-knives and Pelforth in Paris (actually more like a waistband-popping visit to Stohrer topped off by a fine Brouilly nowadays). I wasn’t consciously looking for anything particularly yarn-related (apart from a couple of sneaky visits to La Droguerie and Cat’Laine) … but it found me anyway, nestling amongst a bunch of dead animals. Of course.

Perhaps strangely for an animal lover and ex-vegetarian of 15 years, Musée de la Chasse et de la Nature is one of my favourite museums – apart from the fact that it’s an ideal place to take a tired 7-yr-old with a keen eye for taxidermy, it’s housed in the elegant 17th century Hôtel de Guénégaud, a traditionally Parisian backdrop against which to successfully blend both abstract pagan and rather more modern concepts. Even if the subject matter and room after room of glassy-eyed stuffed animals isn’t your thing, it’s hard not to get carried away by the theatricality of the exhibits and thoughtful display methods (although Jnr was justifiably freaked by the ceiling in the owl room). One of the chief delights is seeking out the wooden curiosity cabinets – which are works of art in themselves – devoted to various wild beasties:  look through a pair of ‘binoculars’ and you’ll get a badger’s view of the forest; open a door and you’ll discover a child’s picture of a wolf accompanied by music; tug on a handle and slide out a 17th century engraving of a stag; pull out a heavy drawer and you’ll find an imprint of the animal’s faeces set into bronze. Hares, foxes, deer, wild boars … the essence of each is captured in these exquisite animal spirit repositories. Continue reading »

Oct 18

E is for … Ease

Ease is the amount of space between your body and the garment. ‘Negative ease’ on the other hand is where the garment is smaller than the wearer’s actual measurements.

Ease will vary depending on the style of garment you’re knitting and is something you’ll have to use your judgement for. The standard ease for modern garments is a comfortable 2″ to 4″ (5 – 10cm), but between the 1930s and 1950s, when a tighter, more fitted look was favoured, garments tended to have a negative ease of -1″ to -2″ (-2.5 to -5cm), which means the garment was knitted smaller than the wearer’s measurements. Continue reading »

Oct 10

Do you remember when Elle Magazine used to include amazing, fashionable and stylish handknit patterns like this one, ‘Plum Line’ from Galliano? In case you didn’t get that, that’s JOHN GALLIANO, a high-end fashion designer at his peak providing an incredibly stylish handknit pattern in a fashion magazine.

I was lucky enough to hold a one-to-one lesson yesterday with the lovely Emma who dug out this pattern which she’d stashed away for years but had never forgotten (and who can blame her?). I’m helping her go through the pattern to choose yarn and identify any tricky techniques, but we were both struck by how fashionable and stylish the garment is, and how it doesn’t shy away from using involved techniques – no dumbing down here, this is a tailored-looking piece of knitwear with fitted sleeves and an unusual cable cross technique as a main design feature. A quick Ravelry search reveals it was from 1986 but it’s only in 3 queues – does anyone else remember or own it? Continue reading »

Sep 30

Well hello there Skiff blog, sorry I’ve been a stranger round these parts … it’s not you it’s me. I’m very aware that I haven’t posted here for a few months (save to add to the ‘A-Z of Pattern Deconstruction’ at the weekend … I’m up to ‘D’ now, still plenty of time to think about the subject matter for ‘Z’). I haven’t lost the love, I’ve just been wildly spinning plates and unfortunately the blog plate dropped. So what have I been up to that’s so earth-shatteringly important?

 

Well we’ve moved house for one and as stressful as it was, boy was it worth it. We’ve not gone far, but have swapped town for country for the first time since a disastrous lifestyle choice in rural France ten years ago (another story, another time), and you’ll now find us looking slightly astonished in a third of a gothic-style early Victorian mansion. Our surprised expression is down to the fact that it’s not where we pictured ourselves ending up when we first talked about moving, but something about its faded glory and gothic grandeur whispered to us to take it on and we fell for its charms. We’re surrounded by woodland and fields and their many feathered and furry inhabitants, which is keeping Jnr, Boots the Dog and Blacksox the Cat in various states of excitement, curiosity and occupation, sadly not always to the benefit of the unfortunate wildlife. The most exciting discovery so far has been a grass snake in the pond which rested on a lily pad for a while and then gently sashayed across the water into the reeds, never to be seen since. Continue reading »

Sep 28

D is for … Deconstruction

The first thing you need to do when you’re about to adapt an already existing pattern is to get to grips with the original and glean as much information as you can out of it – to do that you have to look at each element to see what makes it tick.

Most knitting patterns, even vintage ones, are broken down into segments which we’re familiar with today and will guide you through making up the garment: Materials, Tension (or Gauge), Measurements, Abbreviations, Instructions and Making Up. Continue reading »

Jun 29

Apparently this vintage pattern supplement for a Mohair Dress (With Turtle Neck) from The Sunday Express will give you the Paris 1958 look … yes please, although maybe lose the curly accessory (sorry poodle lovers).

The dress is knitted in stocking stitch from the top down, the sleeves are worked integrally and the collar and cuffs are knitted separately.

According to my research (*cough* Wikipedia) Veronica “Vee” Papworth was a journalist and illustrator who died 21 September 1992, aged 79. She started out at the London Evening Star in 1946 as a fashion illustrator and writer and moved to the women’s pages of the Sunday Express in the 1950s where she stayed until the 1970s. Wonder if she knitted too?

Jun 15

I’m in the middle of a house move and starting to shift things around into piles, which inevitably has led to a ridiculous amount of time-wasting tangents. I came across my Vogue Knitting collection and fell in love all over again.

Although vintage Vogue Knitting magazines aren’t exactly hard to come by, their value has shot up in recent years with early issues from the  1930s sometimes tipping into three figures. I often talk about the fact that my Mum’s 1950s VKs started a lifelong passion in me – it’s easy to wax lyrical about the superb ’30s and ’40s designs (and wax lyrical I do), but the later issues from the ’60s don’t often get a look-in which is a shame, because in many ways they are equal to their earlier forbears.

Admittedly there was a patchy period in the early ’60s where their designs can be a little humdrum (save those still elegant patterns which showed a nostalgic reluctance to let go of the ’50s). These were the final years of the Condé Naste reign. Ironically the design pace started picking up in the mid-60s  towards the end of its publication … it was re-launched in 1967 but finally threw in the towel in 1969 due to declining readership.

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May 23

I haven’t blogged much in the last month or so: the book project is soaking up my time and energy, but I’m still here and much plotting is going on in the background, plus the next instalment of A-Z of pattern adaptation and more vintage pattern highlights are coming soon!

Even when your nose is to the grindstone you can still find inspiration which you mentally file to follow up at a later date, and I tend to take my inspiration where I can find it in these busy days … it’s great when something unexpected finds you.

I came across the book ‘Sam Pig Goes to the Seaside’ (written by Alison Uttley) the other day which I’ve kept since I was an introverted kid. I have to admit I’ve never made it through ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ but that doesn’t stop me happily flinging about the phrase ‘Proustian rush’. As a rule I try not to give in to nostalgia but the stories, A.E. Kennedy’s illustrations and even the smell of the paper triggered something off and swallowed me whole. I must have spent a lot of time poring over these pages when I was my son’s age, lost in Sam Pig’s world and filling in the empty spaces at the edges of the pictures with an imaginary bucolic world.

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Apr 13

C is for … Charts.

Planning out your pattern adaptation is a system of logical steps. Often when we’re faced with a series of unknown quantities, the instinct is to panic or flee, or at least write it off as beyond our experience, but that’s one of the delights of knitting patterns: everything is solvable if you commit what you know to paper and connect the dots. Even those who tell themselves they’re rubbish at maths will be surprised how logical and straightforward a bit of simple arithmetic can be – see it as a way of creating a definitive map for your garment to guide you around the contours and stitch territory.

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Apr 12

The making of a book is a funny old process and along the way so much of yourself goes into it – in my case that included friends, pets and nearby locations! I’d like to give you a peak under the bonnet of the book so to speak.

Please allow me to introduce the cast of thousands … well, four. Step forward Faith – fashion student, part-time model … and, I’m sure she won’t mind my telling you, our ex-babysitter! She’s so gorgeous and has such a great sense of fashion that I desperately wanted her to be part of the book. You can find her occasionally helping out behind the counter in the Brighton branch of Beyond Retro, where she also gets first dibs on some great vintage fashion.

In this picture she’s wearing a ‘jumper-cardigan’ knitted from a 1940s pattern by Anne Finch who runs the High Street Retro Centre in Hastings. She also sells her garments in the shop along with other great 20th century finds, so well worth a visit if you’re in those parts. Incidentally that front door behind her is mine, and the bike is my (t)rusty old Peugeot!

Continue reading »

Mar 25

This bright and breezy pattern is described as “one of those happy little garments that go with everything, and is suitable for practically all occasions.” So it comes as a shock to find it rubbing shoulders alongside articles such as ‘Precious Pretties for a Wartime Trousseau’, ‘Married On Leave’ and ‘Make-Do and Mend and Turnabout’, placing it firmly in the WWII-era.

It’s another example of making the best of what they had, the drop-stitch inserts where the ribbon is placed use less yarn, and the ribbon could be changed to suit the occasion (“black, navy or brown with your dark tailored suit, for instance, cherry red or vivid blue when a touch of gaiety is indicated, or mixed colours as we suggest in our picture.”)

The fact that the magazine cover is in colour and the yarn suggestion is a specific Ardern’s “Star Sylko” No.5 suggest that this was produced in the early stages of the war, rather than later on when colour print was out of the question and yarn suggestions became more generic. Having said that it’s obviously far enough in for the wounded to be returning for recuperation (the advert in my earlier blogpost comes from this issue).
The booklet also contains adverts for Weldon’s sewing patterns, including this great illustration: “Dungarees are a necessity, these busy days. Wear this well-cut suit with plain and striped shirts or your favourite jersey.” Advice many are still following today!

Needlework Illustrated was published by Weldons, part of the Almalgamated Press group who operated out of Fleetway House in EC4. They were a prolific fashion publishers during the first half of the 20th century, but were sadly sold and subsequently ceased to publish patterns in the early 1960s. Incidentally, for anyone interested in the history of these companies and related businesses, there’s a fascinating article about The Sun Engraving Company who printed for Weldons and Odhams, related by Ernest Corp who joined Sun as Chief Accountant in 1933.

Feb 14

The theory surrounding knitting as therapy crops up from time to time, and has hit the headlines again in recent years as we enjoy another golden craft heyday.

So I was fascinated to see this advert for Penelope (a W.M.Briggs brand) tucked away in the back of a wartime era Needlework Illustrated (No.172). The text reads as follows:

“News from a Hospital somewhere in England.

By means of handicraft requiring varying degrees of attention and skill, occupation helps the patients to improved physical health. The one shown in our photograph escapes from the boredom of inactivity and from depression by embroidering Trace Art Needlework designed by Penelope.”

Even more interesting to see sewing being promoted as a male pastime, although it does beg the question: is it only acceptable for men to take up these traditionally female crafts during traumatic times when they need to escape ‘the boredom of inactivity and depression’? Is there a clue in that phrase as to why fibre hobby crafts are so closely linked to female social history?

Feb 4

B is for Buttons. Or, more precisely, knitted and crocheted buttons.

In the scrabble for authentic vintage buttons (which you can end up spending a good proportion of your knitting budget on), the humble homemade button has been overlooked, which is a shame as this small but important item was a popular finishing touch in many vintage garments, and can offer a wealth of versatility and creative freedom.

For those who love the tiny minutiae of knit and crochet details, you can geek out till your heart’s content creating a piece of eye-catching button-art in any stitch or colour combination you like.

As far as the filling’s concerned, you can either buy pre-made button moulds or follow in the footsteps of the thrifty wartime knitter and stuff your buttons with offcuts of yarn, or even cover an older unwanted button. The sky’s the limit, but a general rule of thumb is to use yarn and needles fine enough to be able to give you the fine detail you want on such a small item. Of course you could also sew and embroider your own button covers, but that’s another blog!

To knit your own button cover, knit a square in your desired stitch and yarn, large enough for some extra room around the edges when you place your button mould in the middle, then sew a running stitch around the edge. Place the button in the middle, draw up and fasten off.

To crochet a round button, make 4ch and join in a ring. Work 16 trebles into the ring. Break off wool, leaving a long end and thread into darning needle. Take a stitch into the top of each treble, pull threads tightly together and sew across.

And a new obsession is born …

Feb 1

I’m getting some lovely feedback from ‘Knit Back In Time’ which, I’ll admit, is happy news to my ears! Now you too can create your own adaptation of the Bestway ‘Tea-Time Jumper’ (leaflet No.605) featured in the first half of the book by going to the ‘Free Vintage Knitting Patterns’ page.

I’m picking up on ‘wishlist’ items for the book which is something I can address here: there are no actual patterns in the book and I’ll admit that’s something it would have been nice to have included, so I’ve spoken to the current Bestway copyright-holders who have agreed to me publishing the pattern on this website – hurrah! This is particularly good news as the pattern doesn’t seem to crop up regularly on the usual vintage pattern outlets, so I’ve saved you the bother of searching. Continue reading »

Jan 29

Whoever said twinsets are the staid, boring uniform of the elderly? This classy little 1950s combo turns the notion on its head.

Marriner’s leaflet No.162 was originally knitted in Marriner’s 3-ply “Heritage” Shrink-less knitting wool in Light Grey, White and Cherry on No.10 (3.25mm) & No.12 (2.75mm) needles to a tension of 7.5sts/9.5 rows to the inch. Shrink-less yarn was another one of those great post-war ’50s innovations. Geek fact alert: out of the 25,000,000 US wired homes in 1940, 60% owned an electric washing machine. The war put the kibosh on washing machine production but when the humble appliance returned to take its place in the home, new techniques evolved to help clothes withstand the process. Shrinkless yarn was still 100% wool, but was treated to prevent shrinking and felting.

The ’50s also saw progress in the ladies’ bust department (helped along by the bullet bra): patterns finally had to admit that women came in sizes other than a 34″ bust and, what’s more, knitted fashion could actually still look stylish on those more shapely figures – this pattern offers a range of sizes between 34-40″. Having said that the waist is still pretty small by today’s standards, ranging roughly between 25-28″.

The simple shape (ribbed welt, increases out to the bust, set-in sleeves, crew neck) is a familiar theme, but makes a stand-out garment combined with the colours, contrast yoke and patterned leaf motif.

In true Maria von Trapp style, these are a few of my favourite things.

Jan 14

True to my word, I’m introducing another feature … the Knitting Pattern Adaptation A-Z will take you through many issues you’ll need to consider when you’re adapting a knitting pattern (vintage or otherwise). I know what you’re thinking and no, I’m not entirely sure what I’ll do when I get to ‘X’ either, but I’ll knit that stitch when I come to it.

So here we go. A is for … Armholes (including Sleeves). No don’t shudder like that! This issue is one which is likely to put many people off adapting vintage patterns – vintage torsos were smaller than our own, and knitwear used negative ease (more of this in a future article), so you’ll find that the bust and shoulder measurements are too small for your own modern figure, or the armhole depth means a tighter sleeve than you’re used to. While you don’t want to stray too far from the vintage silhouette, you might find some adjustments necessary, so … you’ve widened the bust measurements successfully using your tension/gauge swatch as a key, but that means that the shoulder measurements are now just that bit too wide. Or you’ve calculated the depth of the armhole and it’s half an inch too tight … what to do? Continue reading »

Jan 8

There are a few resources which anyone approaching pattern adaptation will find essential – patience and a vat of Red Bull are just two (other energy drinks are available). Another one is knitter’s graph paper.

This is a fantastic resource for working out the shaping and sizing of your original pattern: you can translate the pattern instructions row by row onto your graph paper and create an actual size version of the pattern. Similarly, you can re-create your modified version by pinpointing your own measurements onto the paper and working out the shaping increases and decreases. As well as being useful for plotting fair isles and colourwork, knitter’s graph paper is particularly helpful when it comes to armhole and sleeve cap shaping, a sanity check to make sure that your sleeve will actually fit into your armhole (always useful).

Normal graph paper just won’t cut it when it comes to knitting – each square is supposed to represent a stitch, but a stitch is generally wider than it is high so you’ll need to work out the correct dimensions. There are many tutorials out there for how to create your own, but there’s no harm in a bit of repetition where this is concerned … as ever, it all begins with the tension/gauge swatch …

Continue reading »

Jan 5

Untitled 1978I’m going slightly off piste here, but the story of knitting/craft is so intricately linked to female social history that I’m hoping you’ll forgive me for broadening the remit somewhat to indulge my fascination with creative women in all fields.

It’s been 20 years or so since I first read Linda Nochlin’s ‘Women, Art and Power’ … returning to it recently I found it to be as solid and as full of impact as I remember it, but it left me wanting to explore a more up-to-date view. A chance wander through the Art section in the library unearthed ‘After The Revolution: Women Who Transformed Contemporary Art’, with a foreword by Nochlin herself (Lewes Local Library, we salute you).

I’m jumping the gun, a bit of premature speculation if you will, as I’m not that far through it. A product of the bite-sized info chunk generation, I’ll admit I’ve shunned it as a linear narrative and flicked ahead to read about my favourite artists: step forward Cindy Sherman. As a feminist artist she’s always been somewhat controversial, many critics arguing that she serves merely to perpetuate and objectify the female stereotype through her images of feminine beauty and vulnerability, but there’s something so uncomfortable (and somewhat grotesque) about the viewing experience that I side with the argument that she challenges those same stereotypes.

Sherman is notoriously interview-shy, and it seems that she, along with many artists, doesn’t like to pigeonhole her own work as neatly as the critics would prefer. The article attempts to sum up her work in a post-feminist context, but concludes that “any comprehensive survey of Sherman’s work underscores the inadequacy of critical models that tie her to particular theoretical positions.” Sherman herself seems to confirm this in a quote: “The only time critical writing really affected my work was when it seemed like someone was trying to second guess where I was going next: I would use that to go somewhere else.”

This is the message that stood out for me – apart from cocking a snook at the critics, I love the creative freedom that quote suggests, along with the alternative view of ego. The idea that you can freely absorb an idea which was the result of someone second-guessing your own work implies a fluid connectivity and an openness which many are reluctant to admit, intent as we all are on wanting to be seen as fiercely individual, unique and full of our own vision.

We are, after all, human, and part of a great collective biological and spiritual consciousness (made more tangible by the way we’ve bear-hugged the connectivity the web has offered us). For anyone working in a creative field that’s a never-ending source of inspiration … what that quote tells me is take it where you can find it, even from the most unlikely provenance and be humble enough to admit your humanity.

Jan 3

Golden Eagle Cape knitting patternA big old Happy New Year to you all! One of my resolutions this year is to blog more, and since I’ve stopped selling off my vintage knitting pattern collection I’ve come up with a couple of regular features to hopefully entertain you all. First up I thought I’d share some of my favourite patterns with you on a weekly basis … ladies and gents, please give a big hand to ‘Vintage Pattern of the Week’.

To kick the feature into gear, I’m starting off with this stunning 1950s cape: ‘White Crepe Evening Coat’ in three sizes, issued by Golden Eagle, pattern No.1001. The materials section calls for 1lb 5oz Golden Eagle ‘Polyknit’ Crepe Wool (allow 1oz extra wool for larger size) and is knitted in stocking stitch on UK imperial No.12 needles (US No.2, metric No.2.75mm) to a tension (gauge) of 9sts and 12 rows to 1″. 1 pair of shoulder pads is also required.

The measurements are: Length: 25/25.5/26″, Bust: 34/36/38″, Sleeve Seam: 17″

It showcases many favourite vintage features: crocheted button, binding along the the 2″ hemmed lower edge and over the side and shoulder seams to firm the garment up and give it more structure, a double-thickness mandarin collar, and a crocheted loop ‘frog’ buttonhole.

Interestingly the stunning detail which makes it stand out most of all – the dazzling decoration on the shoulders and collar – doesn’t even get a mention. I love the fact that the designer had such confidence in the creative abilities of her/his audience that they left this piece de resistance to the imagination, daring you to come up with your own concoction. Either that or they just ran out of space to squeeze the ‘Making Up’ instructions onto the page … I’m going to be generous and plump for the former.

Nov 14

I have developed the habit of rushing for the remote to pause the TV whenever I see an interesting piece of clothing or knitting and taking a picture of the screen: technology, my family thanks you. Usually the first thing to hand is my phone so the pictures aren’t great and that’s usually where they stay, languishing in the digital vaults of an HTC Desire.

Somehow this one not only made it out but made it onto my needles. And I actually finished it. And here it is … the ‘Peggy’ Sweater. The last season of Mad Men saw the ’60s really starting to kick in and, for me, Peggy’s wardrobe stood out spectacularly, coloured with mod touches, collars and cravats. Early on in the series she wore this great black dress, just above the knee, with bold black and white accents … just crying out to be made into a sweater, I thought. So I did.

Continue reading »

Oct 22

So the call of a new project made itself heard loud and strong last week and I, a weak mortal, was powerless to obey. I didn’t even hang about to ponder too long on what I should choose, I just needed to knit something new and fast. Cardigans, that’s it, I definitely need cardigans.

I’m about to start on a new work project which means that I wanted something incredibly quick and straightforward, so when I went through my pattern stash I shunned the lure of my usual fine knit sirens in favour of something quicker … and this 1950s jacket peeked coyly from the bottom of the pile – ‘Knitting time – 6 hours!’ it whispered temptingly. How could I resist that challenge?  Not the most attractive of cardigans but still … 6 hours! I decided to go for it, just to check its claims. But then I decided I wanted something a bit more attractive but still speedy. In red. So I chose this simple P&B DK number – I like the way the unfussy border looks like an enlarged, pixelated lace pattern in the DK.

We’re not exactly blessed with a great choice of yarn outlets in this area, but I couldn’t wait for all that delivery palava so I headed for a largeish emporium in the center of Brighton – not a great selection but it sometimes does the trick. I didn’t want to splash out too much on the ’6-hour’ number and ended up going for Patons Superwash Wool Blend DK – got to admit it’s not one that’s on my radar, but was impressed with its 63% wool content and the fact that it smelt and felt sheepy, but most of all because it was £3.95 for 100 grams. I spent £16 on a guesstimated 800 grams. I took a bit more care over the red yarn and plumped for a Debbie Bliss Cashmerino DK – soft, smooth, good stitch definition for the eyelet stitch. Not the cheapest but it balanced out nicely against the other cardi, so Friday night found me clearing my hectic social calendar (ahem) and merrily casting on. The bodice is knitted all in one and it’s flying off the needles – not quite the 6 hours of its humbler companion, but I’m determined to fly through it as fast as I can.

Hmm, these two are going to go so quickly I might need to start looking for another project …

 

Oct 5

This week I had the amazingly good fortune to meet up and chat with Irene Baxter. Meeting Irene was a dream come true for me as she was one of the original mid-20th century knitting experts, working on many women’s publications and magazines in their knitting departments during her long career. So, with the wind howling around her seafront apartment (and accompanied by many varieties of delicious cake), I spent a lovely afternoon finding out about her experiences over the years.

Irene grew up around Blackheath and started work on Woman’s Weekly in 1938 as their resident knitting expert, continuing to work with them throughout the Second World War. After marrying and a brief sojourn in India where she and her husband started their family together, she returned to the UK South Coast, family in tow, and returned to work as Knitting Editor for Woman’s Realm in 1958. What started out as a 2-year contract extended into a 22 year career, during which she also headed up the Crafts Department. Her tenure there spanned enormous changes in the approach to hand knitting, yarn innovations, and peaks and troughs in handknit popularity.

I’ve condensed our chat, making it briefer to cut out some of our tangents, but you can also download a full transcript of our conversation. Continue reading »

Sep 19

Well I feel utterly privileged to be saying these words … I’ve written a book. Can you guess what it’s about? Well it ain’t neuro-surgery that’s for sure. It’s my favourite subject in the world, the one I could talk about for hours (via a few ranty tangents) but thankfully in this instance I had to try to limit my rambling to 176 pages. Yes, it’s a book about vintage knitting patterns. Or more specifically, how to adapt them, plus a little bit about fashion history, yarn choices and techniques. And there’s more! The second half of the book takes a different approach and looks at how to take modern patterns and customise them with your own vintage elements.

The project came as a result of those excellent people at Rotovision last year … it’s been a while in the production line – the book itself only took a few months to write and knit but then there was a flurry of photography, editing and layout design, and I’m happy to say it will be coming out on Search Press in the UK  at the beginning of 2013 (you can pre-order on Amazon here) and on Interweave in the US in March 2013. Continue reading »

Sep 14

I went to In The Loop 3 in Winchester last Friday – a fine day, full of fascinating and thought-provoking papers, but there was one particular presentation which stimulated my poor cold-ridden brain … sleep didn’t come easily that night. I tried to kill said brain with Sudafed but forgot about the caffeine content, so I got up and started committing thoughts to digital paper …

Emmanuelle Dirix presented her deliciously titled paper ‘Stitched Up: Vintage Mania and The Dark Side of the Knitting Revival‘ which focused on the negative aspects of the current craft revival, including empty representations of ‘vintage’ – that ubiquitous all-encompassing term (hell, I put my hand up to making the most of that one, just look above at the logo). The concerns around rolling back time to the pre-feminist and pre-Windrush years are clear – craft combined with a vintage aesthetic has taken hold of our culture and created a whole new bunch of consumerist and marketing opportunities. So far so capitalism. But here’s the real sting: nostalgia combined with craft is class and race-reliant, appealing to a middle-class, time-rich audience and serving to put women firmly back in their place. Continue reading »

Jul 4

I had lunch with an old friend yesterday – we talked about our younger days as you do, but we managed to avoid murky nostalgia in favour of a clearer path, instead discussing ways to reflect on the past and incorporate it into the present. Having worked intensively on a vintage knit project for the last six months or so, I’ve been thinking along similar lines about knitting recently. I’ve completely immersed myself in the world of vintage patterns, which as habitats go is a pretty marvellous place to be, but along the way I confirmed a theory I’ve been batting around. At the risk of stating the bleeding obvious, here it is (in usual lengthy verbose form).

You might have noticed that I’m an avid collector of vintage patterns, yarn and related paraphernalia (there’s no fooling you). I’m a staunch fan of the importance of re-visiting and curating the past, studying the original historical artifacts, reminding ourselves of the outstanding elements and learning from them, but I have my reservations … if we’re slavish to our history we run the risk of leaving it exactly where we found it. The temptation to remember knitted designs wholesale means locking them in a time-capsule, forever intrinsically linked to the era which produced them.
Continue reading »

Jun 12

Geek that I am, I recently bought this gorgeous 1950s Munrospun kit to knit a jerkin, complete with ‘Munrospun tweed’ for the fronts, 8oz of 3-ply ‘Morning Haze’ toning wool for sleeves, back and welt, buttons and a Munrospun label.

The kit is wonderful time capsule from the 1950s knitting boom and it’s in immaculate condition, fresh as a daisy. Munrospun was based at Restalrig in Edinburgh and as far as I can tell the company was bought out in 1956, ending up in the hands of yarn giants Coats. The rather fine-looking factory continued producing until the 1970s and now serves another purpose, inevitably being converted into residential apartments.

I’m itching to see what the garment looks like when it’s knitted up, but I think I’m going to keep the pack intact – I’ve not come across one before and I think it’s rather a rare piece of knitting history. I’d love to hear from anyone else who has a similar kit …

May 25

Gotta confess, things may have been a little quiet on the website – in fact I was reprimanded recently by one of my lovely customers for neglecting the site and spending too much time on Twitter (guilty as charged). I’m still here, still obsessed, but I’ve been working away on a rather exciting project in the background which I’ll be able to tell you about in the coming weeks.

I’ve also had an enormous clearout and downsized my studio which is giving me endless joy. I’m still underneath the rather fine Union Music Store but I’ve moved into a smaller, lighter section – on a good day I can hear excellent sounds wafting down from above, courtesy of Union’s in-store gigs. The purpose behind de-cluttering was, of course, to create a place for me to focus and … well, create – I’ve got a sink and a kettle, and a very cosy chair for those essential, ahem, “creative breaks”. I was feeling pretty pleased with the result and rather adult about the whole thing, until dear friend Sibilla gently pointed out that what I’ve actually created is an art student’s bedsit, complete with shop dummy. I might as well have gone the whole hog and adorned it with a stolen traffic cone.

Still, nice to see my yarn is finally colour-organised – I picked up a couple of great old shop cabinets for £3 from the local tip which was bargain of the century. I was going to go one step further and organise it into weights as well, but life being short and all …

In other news, I’m also considering moving the pattern shop over to Etsy – I built the ecommerce side of things on a free WordPress plug-in but it does come with more bugs than an insect house and I’m spending far too much time trying to fix them so I think that’ll be the next step.

Now over to Tweetdeck to tweet about this blogpost like a true addict …

Mar 1

March is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month and ‘Target Ovarian Cancer’ have organised a great ’50s Challenge’ campaign.  My very small contribution to the cause is to donate 10% of all Skiff proceeds, plus this free vintage turban knitting pattern. I’ve adapted it from a classic late 1940s/early 1950s pattern – very good for bad hair days I find.

downloadDownload the Vintage Turban Knitting Pattern

Cancer affects so many that I know I’m not alone in saying it’s a cause close to my heart. Having lost a mother and sister to cancer before old age had its way with them, then another sister and nephew contracting it recently, it’s been a hard one to ignore. I’m also not alone in finding knitting a consistent fallback for me in life, so it makes sense to use it to help a cause which strives to get rid of the reason why I’ve often needed that strength!

One in fifty women will develop ovarian cancer in their lifetime, so Target Ovarian Cancer are also asking you to inform fifty women of the symptoms of ovarian cancer and to raise at least £50. Check out their website for more details.

Oct 13

Our love affair with the vintage fair isle look continues, and while knitting from the original instructions may seem straightforward, I sometimes get questions from concerned fair isle pattern buyers about whether the instructions are written or charted – this blogpost is intended to encourage those nervous souls to dive in and chart your own! It’s pretty common for vintage fair isle patterns to be written with no chart representation and being a lazy moo myself I always appreciate the appeal of charted patterns for ease and speed, but there’s also something rather satisfying about deciphering the written instructions, like revealing a secret code, so here are some tips for how to do it.

I’ll use this 1940s jumper with fair isle yoke that I’m working on at the moment as an example – as you can see you’ll obviously have a visual clue from the pattern picture so you’re not exactly working in the dark. It’s also fairly common for patterns from this era to suggest which colours you should use, although don’t feel you have to stick to their suggestions. This particular pattern suggests natural, black, blue and red which I’ve decided to stick to. Continue reading »

Sep 26

Well hang out the bunting and slice the cake, it’s a Skiff blogpost … just catching up with some pictures from finished projects and thought I’d share this one. I know what you’re thinking – I’m looking pretty pleased with myself right? In my defence I earned that smug look … this blouse caused me a fair amount of grief as I was suffering from knitter’s elbow throughout the knitwork. This sounds like a ridiculously mild complaint in the bigger scheme of things (and it is), but is a common knitter’s problem along the lines of tennis elbow (I’ve never been near a racket in my life). I now wear a bizarre strap thingy on my arm when I knit and can be regularly seen doing strange arm exercises to prevent a comeback.

The classic combination of 2-ply and 3.25mm needles was taken from Vogue Knitting No.35 (1949) and knitted up to a tension of 14 rows to the inch in a tiny moss-stitch … let’s just say it’s not the quickest thing I’ve ever knitted (although it still beats my 14-year-long pimped Vogue shirt), but it’s here in the world and I’m making the most of it.

My friend Sibilla took the picture round the back of a local ancient church where we then proceeded to have a crafty cig and a couple of miniatures before the vicar caught us.

Smug? Damn right.

Jun 18

I’ve been knitting from vintage patterns for a few years now, but I never stop learning. Case in point is this wonderful pattern for a Sports Jumper with fabric trim from a 1935 edition of The Needlewoman.

In theory it looks pretty straightforward – the bottom half is knitted from left to right in a horizontal ridge (knit row, purl row, purl row, knit row), the back and front yokes are knitted vertically with increases on the front yokes to fit around the, fake (as I thought) pockets. I always do an initial sketch based on the measurements, tension and instructions from the original pattern, and from that I re-size it if necessary and create a new sketch … I followed my usual procedure in this case, but just couldn’t get my head around the top front yokes: the instructions show that a 3″ stretch on one side of both pieces is knitted in stocking stitch and I couldn’t work out from the picture where that should fit.

Writing it out now, it seems so obvious but I spent ages agonising over it, and was on the verge of writing this off as a pattern mistake and over-ruling it, creating my own version. Then I remembered one of my own rules – never forget to THOROUGHLY comb the ‘make-up’ instructions. I’d made the fatal mistake of assuming I’d find out all I needed to know about the anatomy of this jumper just by looking at the picture which meant I just quickly gone over the most vital part of how to actually put it together. Are you one step ahead of me? Yes my friends, the pockets weren’t fake, the stocking stitch edges in the top yokes were the pocket backs.

I’m feeling pretty stupid now I’m writing this as it seems so obvious, but it stands as a valuable lesson to other vintage knitters … don’t get complacent and make assumptions about the designs you’re knitting from, vintage patterns constantly amaze me with their little details and surprises. Read the pattern once, then turn down the music/TV/dog and re-read it without any distractions, make sure you’ve got a complete understanding of how the garment is put together.

Here’s another tip for free: don’t try and work it out at 9 o’clock at night, half a bottle of wine down, with Queens of the Stone Age shouting at you in the background (I mean on the iPod, they weren’t actually in the kitchen arguing with me). I’m writing this in the morning with a bit of Tom Waits & Crystal Gayle playing quietly and a clear head, and it seems blatantly and embarrassingly obvious now (heh, sheepish sigh).

Apr 20

As I uploaded a P&B Cap & Bolero pattern yesterday I had a nagging feeling I’d seen it before somewhere – then I remembered that I’d knitted the cap from it a couple of years ago.

Can’t remember what yarn I knitted it with (stupidly didn’t record it on Ravelry), but I think it was a straightforward angora, and used about 75g. It was pretty quick to knit too, although those bobbles can be a bit fiddly. Haven’t aired it in public yet – you need the right hairstyle for this and I haven’t got round to perfecting the whole look.

The bolero’s rather lovely too – fancy a go? You can buy the pattern here

Mar 17
Excelana 4-ply

Excelana 4-ply

Choosing the right yarn to knit up your vintage pattern takes time and effort and most of the enquiries I get are about which wool to use, so I got geekily excited when I heard that vintage knit queen, designer and author Susan Crawford was about to launch her own brand of wool to accompany her Stitch In Time series of books. I caught up with her at its grand unveiling at Unravel in Farnham – she’d only received the first batch that week and was thrilled with the result. Me too when I got it home … I knitted up a sample to find that it combines softness with strength beautifully and lives up to its description: soft handling, great stretch and excellent stitch definition.

Excelana is produced in conjunction with Devon-based John Arbon of Fibre Harvest and is 100% British wool, spun from the fleece of the North Devon Exmoor Blueface and the Blue Faced Leicester (I love sheep names). At present only the 4-ply is available, but DK, Aran and a unique 3-ply are also in the pipeline, with the promise of more shades to accompany the existing vintage-inspired palette of eight colours.

You can read more about it and place an order through through the Excelana website or through Susan Crawford’s Vintage site.

Feb 28

Holstgarn Supersoft 2-ply

I came across Holstgarn Supersoft, a rather interesting-looking and reasonably-priced Danish 100% wool 2-ply, so I sent off for the shade cards and it turns out they’re rather lovely, excellent vintage shades extremely suitable for vintage knitting. Can’t remember how I discovered it but it might possibly be something to do with my ridiculous obsession with Danish crime thriller Forbrydelsen – I’m not alone in my fascination with the heroine’s minimalist approach to her wardrobe, ie: one beautiful Faroese woollen jumper. Anyway, the Holstgarn looks rather promising so I’m planning to experiment with it at some point in the future.

I’m thinking a trip to Copenhagen might be an essential part of my wool research too, you know, just to see it in the flesh before I sample it. Any excuse for a holiday eh?

Jan 18
Home Notes April 1935

Home Notes April 1935

I was lucky enough to come across a number of early 1900s and 1930s Home Notes magazines recently. Loathe as I am to part with them, I know they’ll just end up sitting wrapped up in cellophane in my vintage knitting/magazine collection, so I’ve loaded them up onto the site. Of course, that couldn’t just be the end of it … I sat browsing through them and realised the descriptions were getting longer and longer as I got lost in these fascinating snapshots of a complicated era, so my explorations have ended up here instead.

Home Notes was a women’s magazine including fashion features, stories, recipes, advice and knitting patterns … there’s not a lot of information out there, but from what I can gather it possibly ran from the early 1890s – 1960s, hitting its readership peak in the 1950s.

I’m presently lost in the April 1935 edition – the magazine flaunts its debs and celebs like the the 1930s depression had never happened and it’s an odd mixture of ‘ladies, know your place’ and female pioneering spirit. An advert for Ovaltine is endorsed by the actress Ida Lupino, who went on to be the only woman director in Hollywood in the ’40s. An article by Dorothy Crosbie is entitled ‘I Don’t Envy Today’s Debs’ with the byline ‘Miss Modern’s struggle for a good time is too much like hard work‘, and concludes ‘Now Miss 1935. I want you to look at yourself and take stock of your assets. Are you pretty, smart, well-groomed, intelligent and socially presentable? Yes? Well then, why in the world is it necessary for you to indulge in this breath-taking pursuit of anything male?Continue reading »

Dec 15

Vintage Winter Jumpers

Heavens it’s parky, winter is well and truly here – who said you can’t keep warm and look stylish? With that in mind I’ve put together a small selection of my favourite vintage winter knitting patterns. No-one could accuse me of being a sporty type and I prefer the apres to the ski, so there are some cosy jumpers from the ’40s, ’50s and ’60s which I can see looking very chic in that little cabin in Gstaad someone’s bound to invite me to one day (I can wait).

My favourites are the ribbed La Laine Lady’s Sweater complete with frolicking reindeer and the cheeky Reveille Snow Girls designs. The Viyella Skating Outfit’s pretty spectacular too, although I’d have to knit myself some kind of complementary fair isle rear padding – I’ve only sported skates the once and still bear the scars.

Looks like we’re in for a cold few months, so wander over to the Vintage Winter Knitwear section and help yourself to some winter style, vintage style.

Nov 29

French Knitted StyleManaged to squeeze in a quick trip to Paris last month, the sexiest city in the world, which of course included an essential trip to the pinnacle of wool shops, La Droguerie in Rue du Jour. I lived round the corner for a short but blissful time and bizarrely it’s one of the things I miss most about the place (although to be fair it’s a pretty long list).

There are 10 branches throughout France (and 6 in Japan) – I’ve only visited this and the one in Toulouse so I can’t compare with the others, but for me this particular shop has all the excitement and buzz of walking into a small hip record store. Customers excitedly discussing the possibilities suggested by gorgeous knitted garments hanging next to the vast array of yarns, rows and rows of buttons, beads, ribbons, feathers, accessories … a tricoteur’s heaven.

They solve the storage problem of large stock to fairly small shop ratio by displaying the yarn in skeins on the wall, then once the customer’s made a choice an assistant goes to the back of the store where the bulk of the stock’s kept to wind it into balls. I even managed to persuade my non-knitting friend Sibilla to buy some gorgeous powder blue alpaca for a scarf … now all I need to do is teach her to knit!

Stash & VanitySo this was my haul – 6 x 50g balls of yarn to feed my stash-monster. Haven’t got a plan for them yet but I love the cool tones and the yarn itself has got a great story behind it: it’s recycled (38% wool, 22% cotton, 40% ‘other’!) and came with a useful information card about the source – it’s made from  unwanted jumpers and knitted goods donated to charity which are sorted into colours and fibre, then unpicked and broken down. The fibre is then then re-spun, atomised and washed … no dye is used, the colour you see is a result of the broken down fibres. Fascinating stuff eh?

Paris has had a long love affair with all things vintage and there’s plenty to love – decades of top-notch elegant fashion and design to plunder, but typically Parisians have tended to aim for the top end, so it’s nice to see some jumbly vintage shops popping up. After a steer from Sibilla and much elbowing in Freepstar I surfaced with a couple of great vintage dresses for 10 euros each, a cute red vanity case from down the road (which is going to double up as a knitting or crochet bag) and a rockabilly red gingham shirt from Kiliwatch.

Our last morning found us at Marché aux Puces de la Porte de Vanves where I picked up the excellent Marie France magazine from February 1952 (see post header) for 1 euro – special knitting edition natch.

Pretty good shopping overall, and my love intact – adieu till next year Paris.

Sep 19
Devil in a pink blouse

Devil in a pink blouse

Is that a cobweb I see in the browser window corner? And a big dustpile at the bottom? Hmm, I haven’t been very active on the blog front lately have I? Got myself absorbed in helping to organise a food festival and it’s all I can do to keep up with sending the patterns out, but the size 12s are still clacking away in the evenings.

So here’s a little catch-up and a tiny bit of catharsis for me too – if you’re not interested, tune out now. I’ve managed to finish my pink Vogue blouse which has taken *drum roll* a year to complete *cymbal smash*. Mind you I haven’t sewn the buttons on yet and even that seemingly tiny task has been known to delay projects by months, so who knows.

In the meantime I have a mountain of patterns languishing in my vintage vault which I haven’t had time to upload, and my site has decided it can’t quite cope with the visitors it’s receiving so I’ve added an efficient cache plug-in which, wouldn’t you know it, clashes with the shopping cart. Moan moan moan – you don’t want to hear about my problems right? Well I did warn you.

Meanwhile I’m busy eyeing and sizing up my next project and am considering a fair isle number, which sadly will need to be sized up as I’ve (ahem) sized up myself a little in recent months.

I also need to have a word with myself about the size of my ‘I can’t possibly part with that’ pile – the picture above is the most recent candidate. I meant to sell it, I really did, but have you seen it? Such a daring colour combo, such detail … nope, you’re not having it, it’s all mine.

Catharsis complete, thanks for listening. Has anyone ever told you you’re a great listener? Hey, come back …

Jun 16

copyright I had an email the other day from somebody asking me why I’m not selling .pdf copies of patterns instead of the originals.

It’s a good question and a hotly debated topic over on the relevant Ravelry boards - I’m sure there are more sales and profit to be made through selling copies (although to be honest I’m never going to fund that pied-a-terre in Paris through vintage pattern proceeds, originals or copies).

This isn’t going to be an in-depth post about copyright licencing, but briefly … UK creative licence states that copyright remains in force for the lifetime of the creator plus 70 years or, where the author is unknown, 70 years from the date the pattern was published (see the UK Copyright Service website for more info). I know there are many people out there selling copies of patterns and it’s unlikely there’ll be any comeback – it seems to be nigh on impossible to trace who created the patterns in the first place and the larger concerns who bought up some of the vintage companies in the ’50s and ’60s don’t seem to be overly quick to respond to any queries (although I’d be sweating slightly if I was selling any Vogue pattern copies.)

I’d feel uncomfortable about selling vintage patterns without at least trying to do some research, but sadly I just don’t have the time to do this at present. The fact that the author is untraceable makes me feel a little sad too – these fantastic designs were created by unsung talented designers and, at the risk of sounding a bit pompous, I’d rather not cash in on the fact that they weren’t properly recognised at the time.

Besides all that the patterns themselves are rather special items and that’s the business I’m in – selling the original patterns not the copies *insert usual book-championing arguments I’m prone to spout at the drop of a hat in the face of any pro-Kindle debates*. Admittedly it makes the patterns harder to part with but more enjoyable to send out to like-minded enthusiasts.

Having said that, I do keep a scan of every pattern I sell so I have a huge library and may re-consider the possibility one day (in a mythical future where I have more time or they’ve decided that hey we were wrong, cloning is ethically okay really), particularly for the 1930s patterns which are possibly out of copyright already.

There, got that off my chest. Now where was I? Oh yes … compiling an iTunes compilation list for a friend …

*Note*: For US copyright info, read Kristen Rengren’s post.

Jun 4

pimp_vogue_blouseWelcome to the June edition of Skiff’s ‘Pimp My Vintage Knit’ feature … don’t hold your breath for the next one, this one took me about 14 years to finish – yes, that’s 14 years. Excuse the blurry pics, but if I wait to get around to taking another one it’ll take me another 14 years to write this blog post.

This blouse project has moved around with me in a half-finished state from house to house, country to country, sadly neglected and rejected until I delved into the bottom of a long-forgotten stash box a couple of months ago.

The Original Vogue Blouse

The Original Vogue Blouse

The pattern’s from Vogue Knitting No.48 (1956) and I seem to remember I originally had the horrible idea of attaching a white fake fur collar to it but never got around to it (some things are best left unpimped) so shoved it in a bag … procrastination has always been my middle name.

So here it is 14 years down the road, and the night after I rediscovered it I had a weird dream about red wool stitching around the collar, sleeve edges and button band and a fake pocket … et voila.

Obviously I can’t remember what wool I used although I’d never heard of Jamieson & Smith at the time so it’s pretty safe to say I probably used a bog-standard baby 3-ply. Chances are I bought it from a wonderful wool shop which used to take up a large space in Bloomsbury Way down the road from the British Museum (I lived in an attic not far from there with a delightful cockroach problem in the kitchen) and is now inevitably some hideous coffee shop.

Ah memories …

Apr 22
Pretty vacant

Pretty vacant

Okay so it’s finally Spring, but the British weather being what it is I always like to be prepared. Anyway, when a vintage love affair begins it doesn’t heed the seasons and this one with my swagger scarf happened accidentally like all the best romances.

So there I was writing a blog post about Stitchcraft magazine when I came across a brief article written by a knitting detractor who used vintage pattern images to illustrate their disapproval, including this 1930s Patons & Baldwins advert for a knitted scarf and I fell in love – so bold, so brave, so ’30s. I ignored the scornful comments and dove in.

The original swagger scarf

The original swagger scarf

I had a search around and posted a few requests on Ravelry but couldn’t find the original anywhere so I’ve knocked up a quick pattern for anyone else who shares my crazy love. It’s really straightforward, all in garter stitch – don’t be put off by the mitred points.

I used Jamieson & Smith jumper-weight yarn as their shades matched the original exactly which was handy. In hindsight I think I’d have made it a little wider – it’s 71sts wide but I think 85 sts would have given it that extra bit of fullness you see in the original. Apart from that it came out pretty well.

swagger_thumbJust one mystery remains – any of you fashion history bods out there tell me why it’s called the swagger scarf? I gather that the swagger coat was a popular style from the early 1900s onwards and the name suggests a freedom of movement, but how does that apply to the scarf? Answers on a faded vintage postcard to Skiff … actually an email will do.

download Download Skiff’s 1930′s Swagger Scarf pattern (pdf)

Apr 14
Claudia's Cardigan

Claudia's Cardigan

A lovely lady got in touch recently to let me know she’d successfully knit up one of the free patterns offered by Skiff – and what a great result!

Sounds like it all went smoothly: using Patons Merino she found she didn’t find the need to adapt the pattern in any way. Says Claudia “I think the tension squares are key when doing vintage patterns, and this wool and needle combo seemed to work.” Here here.

With vintage buttons from her gran’s sewing box to finish off, the finished article looks stunning, and I love that shade of red (my fave colour).

claudiacardigan2Fancy giving it a go yourself? You can find the pattern over on the Free Vintage Knitting Patterns page – please send in more pictures of any items you finish using a Skiff pattern (bought or free), I love seeing the fledglings hatch …

Mar 21
Terrifying

Bodyguarding the plants - watch out snails

Well here’s one thing I managed to finish on holiday – Skiff Jnr is dinosaur crazy (no really, he’s obsessed like I’ve never seen obsession before), and I was given instructions of what kind of dinosaur he wanted and what colours. Really he wanted a Spinosaurus but I compromised when I found this great amigurami crochet pattern and ended up with a T-Rex/Stegosaurus hybrid.

Not strictly vintage but could be in the sense that dinosaurs are ancient. Pretty fearsome eh?

Mar 11
Stitchcraft July 1946

Stitchcraft July 1946

If you wander over to the Stitchcraft aisle (second floor, next to the perfume and knitted underwear) you’ll see I’ve gone Stitchcraft mad recently.  My personal collection was recently augmented by a bound folder of issues from 1935 which I wouldn’t part with for love nor money, and the gorgeous patterns got me intrigued – it’s a quality magazine which often gets overlooked in the scrabble to buy vintage Vogue Knitting magazines which, incidentally, are getting harder and harder to come by.

The way it steers its obvious target audience towards all things domestic doesn’t always sit comfortably with the post-feminist view we have of ourselves but that’s fairly representative of many women’s publications of its time. An article over at Fulltable is of the opinion that it ‘forbids energy, passion or the consequences of ideas‘, which I can kind of see in the context of women’s position in class and society at the time, but for me the accompanying pictures to the post defy that statement – inventive, creative garments, gorgeously crafted. Of course that was all about to change in wartime Britain as women took on more challenging roles … and yet still found time to create gorgeous clothes, nowt wrong with that.

It started out in October 1932, a Patons & Baldwins publication published in a large magazine format and, as the title would suggest, it’s not just a knitting magazine but gives directions for sewing and embroidery, tapestry etc, often including free transfers and the odd adventurous project for a wooden box or wood-framed bathmat. This makes it all the more interesting for me, you can get a real flavour of the times, right or wrong.

By 1942 times were tough and rationing meant that it halved in size, as most knitting patterns did, although it still managed to produce some fantastic fair-isle and gents’ one-offs. It didn’t size up until 1949 (although even then it was a smaller version of its pre-war days), by which time it had blossomed into a gorgeous curvy creation which strutted its stuff through the 1950s, but by the ’60s it was starting to feel its age and was happier with its feet up by the fire rather than go-go dancing down Carnaby Street. A prematurely aged Stitchcraft limped into the ’70s and by the ’80s P&B decided to do the humane thing and put it out of its misery.

Having said that I do have some early 1960s editions which still contain some cracking patterns, but knowing the purists you all are I’ve left them off the site.

Fancy a new collection? Get shopping!

n.b. The Fulltable link courtesy of Work4IdleHands who also has a fuller version of the Stitchcraft history

Feb 26
Bundle!

Bundle!

It’s all kicking off on the Ravelry boards … words flying, comments censored, needles aimed … the cause? A post submitted by someone working with Vodafone in Ireland on a ‘Cheer Up Ireland’ campaign which involves a bit of urban knitting (although there’s no mention of the project on their website.)

The idea is not a new one but started out with the best of intentions by Eilish Tuite, a third year sculpture student in Limerick school of Art and Design. She is working on a project called Urban Knit, the aim of which is to cover a disused building in Limerick City. The cover will eventually be chopped up into smaller blankets and donated to St.Vincent’s Charity (hopefully washed and repaired after much exposure to the elements?), although as DeadlyKnitshade points out in her post, the charity don’t seem to be asking for knitted blankets, more “help financially and/or by giving of your time”.

Eilish has been calling for contributions of wool since the beginning of February, and I’m not sure whether Vodafone approached her after the project had been initiated or if it was the other way round.

cheerupThen a post popped up on Ravelry yesterday encouraging people to submit knitted squares. The contributor who started off the thread (under the username of Slkav) had joined Ravelry the same day – no profile, no knitting projects, no other contributions save this post. Their email address suggests they work for a company called Simply Zesty – an online pr and social media agency who frankly should know better.

After a few initial encouraging messages, the mood has changed as knitters have started to voice their resentment at the attempt to lure them into a corporate campaign.

Continue reading »

Feb 4
Miss Marple Vintage Scarf - my interpretation

Miss Marple Vintage Scarf - Skiff stylee

It all started with an email through the website from a lovely lady looking for a pattern for a keyhole scarf she’d seen on an episode of Miss Marple.  I sympathised – I’ve been known to grab the camera and take snaps of the TV screen myself when something knitted takes my fancy, and what do you know, here was another TV-knitting-snapper.

I thought the pattern had to be out there so did a search on the web but with no luck – what would Elizabeth Zimmerman do in these circumstances (assuming she was a Miss Marple fan)? Grab her needles and some graph paper – and a pen to write down witty, bone-dry comments – and make up her own, so in the spirit of Zimmerman I did the same (minus the witty comments).  I ordered some fine yarn (UK Alpaca Super Fine DK in ‘Fawn’), did some tension swatches and off I went.  Okay, a scarf’s not the most difficult of things to create, but after a false start I was steaming ahead and feeling pretty chuffed, especially when the keyhole segment worked like a dream.

I typed up the instructions, hit the .pdf creation button … then inevitably found the pattern by chance (through Ravelry of course). My version doesn’t differ that much: the stitch is a little finer, it’s a bit fuller (and bigger overall from what I can see) and the approach to the keyhole section differs where I went off-road and did a simple graft onto the original body of the knitting.  Either way, it’s a sweet scarf … I’m planning another one in black with some white crocheted edging for a dressier version.

Skiff’s Miss Marple Vintage Scarf instructions

Original vintage scarf instructions

Jan 23
Knitting Mag February

Knitting Mag February

A pretty impressive ‘Knitting’ magazine this month (February’s edition) it’s gone all vintage, using the land girls as its inspiration and including an article by vintage knitting champion Susan Crawford (one of her lovely patterns also features).

Patterns include a great 40s-inspired fair isle tank top, a gents military-style cardigan (which Mr Skiff has got his eye on) and cool satchel-style bag.  Must admit, not many knitting magazines inspire me to pick up my needles but this one’s making my fingers itch …

Dec 29
One of the many patches of lime and fragment

One of the many patches of lime and fragment we'll be calling home

In a last desperate attempt to squeeze some relaxation out of the year, Skiff is hiking off round the M25 to a medieval shack in a remote part of Suffolk. Apparently Purton Green is one of ‘the many lost villages of Suffolk, where generations spent their lives, but which are now just patches of lime and fragments in the plough’. Here’s hoping the place we’re staying is a bit more than that, it’s a bit parky at the moment.

Anyways, I’m away from Wednesday 30th December – Monday 4th January, so any orders placed during that time will be sent out on Tuesday 5th January – apologies for any inconvenience.

The weather’s not looking too good, but as long as we can get there with the car full of choice snacks and many bottles of finest wines known to humanity (courtesy of Mr Skiff), we’re not too bothered about being holed up for the duration, or indeed the journey home.

Meantime, I wish you all a fantastic New Year and all good things for 2010!

Dec 15
Selbu 'Sport' Mittens - do not use for wrestling

Selbu 'Sport' Mittens - not to be used for wrestling

Let it snow let it snow let it snow … mainly because I’ve finished my extremely warm graphic Selbu fair isle mittens, and just in time as it happens because there are some brass monkeys out there looking rather cross.

They were nice and quick to knit up and despite the fact that the original pattern calls for generic Germantown wool and there was no tension guide, they weren’t too hard to adapt.  Germantown wool is an American term for a specific yarn from Pennsylvania often used in Navajo weaving – something like DK from what I can fathom but correct me if I’m wrong. I went for something I thought would be soft and thick but fine enough to give a clear fair isle outline, so I decided on good old King Cole Merino DK.  As for the tension, after a couple of false starts I ended up with 3mm dpns, and they fit perfectly. They look enormous due to the extra long cuff – keeps out the snow don’t you know.

I’d vaguely heard of the Selbu tradition but hadn’t really delved any further.  Then I came across a 1920s or ’30s vintage American booklet ‘Ann Orr’s Spreads & Doilies’  which strangely had two patterns for what Ms Orr called ‘sports’ mittens and gloves in the middle of all the patterns for lacy bits and bobs – by ‘sports’ I presume she means skiing and not wrestling.  I fell in love with the bold graphic designs and that was that.

As ever I couldn’t just knit the things I needed to get all academic and wax lyrical about the history behind them so I delved around a bit … pay attention you at the back, I’ll be asking questions afterwards …

Continue reading »

Nov 24

club_logoCrikey it’s opening night down at the old Skiff Vintage Knitting Club … the martinis are flowing, the piano player’s in full flow and your investigative reporter (that’s me) is grabbing the moment and chatting to any happy souls who happen to pass through and spend a few moments reclining on the red velvet chaise. I’m fascinated by what drives other vintage knitters on, and I’ll be inviting inspirational ladies (and gents) to join me in Skiff’s exclusive basement club … the company’s scintillating, the answers are fascinating and every Q&A will tell a personal story, not just about vintage knitting, but what makes knitters tick in general.

First to join me is the lovely (and prolific) Susan Crawford,  knitwear designer, lecturer, co-author of A Stitch in Time, Vintage Knitting and Crochet Patterns 1921-1949′ and the editor of Knit On The Net … did I mention she was prolific? Step inside and help yourself to some canapés …

Continue reading »

Nov 21
Lee Target's 1960s Knitted Hats

Lee Target's 1960s Knitted Hats

Autumn has very definitely arrived, blustering and swearing, and winter is slouching round the corner having a crafty cig, so I’ve got some rather lovely winter patterns lined up for my long dark nights trying to keep out of their way.  As well as a pair of 1940s fair isle mittens (more of which later), I’ve got my eye on some fantastic hats, including a knitted Patons ‘Svengali’ trilby.

Knitting hats and mittens is a great way of breaking up the larger, more complex and intricate pieces and I feel like I can return to a particular jumper I’m working on at the moment (14 rows to the inch, ouch) with renewed vigour.  Okay there’s an element of truth in that last statement but really I’m fooling no-one – I’m procrastinating again.  Problem is if I see a cute pattern I can’t resist I have to get going on it right away so, with one mitten down and one to go, I’m eyeing up wool for hats.

I really love the cheeky Lee Target pattern pictured above, such a great slice of late ’50s/early ’60s imagery.  So if you need a new titfer and a bit of a knitting diversion while you stay out of Winter’s way, check out Skiff’s vintage hat patterns – anyone who manages to re-create the scene of the Lee Target one, please send pictures and you’ll get a free pattern!

Nov 2
My Knit a Poppy Effort

My Knit a Poppy Effort (any likeness between me and the model purely coincidental)

It’s not too late to show your respect in knitted form for those who fell in the great wars (and continue to fall in more recent wars).  This wonderful poppy brooch pattern costs £2 to download from Knit On The Net, all proceeds go to the Poppy Appeal (the pattern is only available until midnight on 12th November 2009 so not long to go now).

I think it’s a rather apt way to express your remembrance, particularly appropriate as the ‘Make Do & Mend’ ethos from the WWII era is so relevant and popular today (fortunately for us for different reasons). Knit on the Net have raised over £500 so far – help them push it up to £1000.

P.S. 2 days on and the total is up to £1980 – keep going!

Oct 5

fairisleframe

Fair Isles – they’re all the rage!  Following my last post, I’m harbouring fair isle desires … seems that if you’re sporting a natty little fair isle tank top around town you can put a big tick in the vintage fashion box. Okay, time to confess, my fair isle technique is not the best in the world (resembles a plate of spaghetti on the reverse side and the pattern starts to look more Picasso cubist than Renoir, sigh) so I do have to work on it, but I’ve got the incentive now, I’m hooked.  With that in mind I’ve gathered my favourite fair isle patterns into their own collection.  Go on, have a peek for some inspiration, you know you want to. Meanwhile, here’s a short history lesson kids …

Duke of Windsor (and friend)

Duke of Windsor (and friend)

Fair Isle is the most remote inhabited island in the UK, lying halfway between Shetland and the Orkney Islands. The knitting style gained a considerable popularity when the impeccably-dressed Duke of Windsor (later to become Edward VIII) wore Fair Isle tank tops in public in 1921.

Strictly speaking, traditional Fair Isle patterns have a limited palette of five or so colours, use only two colours per row, are worked in the round, and limit the length of a run of any particular colour (you can find more about the Fair Isle history on the Scottish Textiles Heritage site). Nowadays we tend to refer to “Fair Isle” as any colourwork knitting where stitches are knit alternately in various colors, with the unused colours stranded across the back of the work. So I’m using a bit of free licence and applying the more liberal sense of the term (although there are some traditional patterns in my collection too).

Sep 22
And here's that jumper in detail

And here's that jumper in detail

Yes, my geekery knows no bounds.  I was watching Scotland On Screen the other night and became entranced by Allan Jones (author of ‘Inside The Wicker Man’), in particular his jumper – check out those gorgeous colours!  Got a great ’40s gentleman’s tank top pattern which I think will lend itself nicely to this so I’m planning wildly.

Another one to join the ever-growing queue…

Sep 11
Emu Wool Ad 1954

Emu Wool Ad 1954

Or ‘How I Learned to Stop Worrying And Love Vintage Knitting’. Planning a vintage knitting project can be a bit like a detective novel … a bit of investigative work will stand you in good stead before you pick up the needles. One of the first parts of the case to solve (and the one most likely to deter would-be vintage knitters from starting in the first place) is which yarn to use.

A fantastic place to kick-off is Kristen Rengren’s all-encompassing guide to vintage knitting; her section on choosing yarn puts you on the right path … tension (or gauge), texture, type of stitch pattern, fibre content and yardage all need to be taken into consideration before you make your choice.  She advises us to scrutinise the pattern picture and do a bit of research into the original yarn used, even look through the wool adverts of vintage knitting publications.

So you’ve got to the bottom of the original yarn … what’s a suitable replacement? You’ve got the needle size and with the help of Kristen’s guide you’ll have worked out the tension and yardage so you can pretty much start anywhere, the modern yarn world is your oyster for 4-ply and DK.  2 and 3-ply can be harder to source, and the plot thickens when you want to match the old shades and textures; sometimes the modern yarns can be too bright or the texture too rough when you want the vintage look.

I’ve been on the look-out for some smaller manufacturers for vintage yarn replacements in the UK, this the story so far …

Continue reading »

Sep 2
Knit The City's 'Oranges & Lemons'

Knit The City's 'Oranges & Lemons'

Graffiti tag knitting, gritting (graffiti knitting) or knagging (knit tagging) … whatever you want to call it, it’s big news at the moment.  Actually I made that last one up, but you get the drift.

Never one to miss the chance to point out the blatantly obvious, so … the ethos behind graffiti knitting is similar to that of conventional graffiti art – find an otherwise ordinary urban environment, attach a handmade knitted item to a blank object or space et voila, your own personal bit of subversive, urban-art-made-statement (you can see some fine examples at the Yarn Bombing Flickr Group).

The start of graffiti knitting is largely credited to Houston-based group Knitta who started out in 2005  “with a mix of clandestine moves and gangsta rap”.  They are now a global phenomenon.  Their public self-outing encouraged many other unconventional knitters out of the closet, irritated by the conventional view of knitters, full of pent-up creativity, passionate about their craft and determined to bring it to light.  Well, that and the fact there is huge potential for fun and humour in collaborative, public outbursts and inventing tag names – wouldn’t you get a kick out of calling yourself PolyCotN or The Notorious N.I.T.?

Since then we’ve seen an explosion of new-wave knitters, expressing themselves in public with acts of knitted granarchy and recording it through their blogs.  Some get political, many do it for the sheer joy of seeing members of the public doing a double-take and grinning as they pass.   ‘Grrl + Dog’ in Sydney recently decorated a 100-year-old public toilet in her ‘Knitted Convenience’ project in July.  Here in blighty the ‘Knit The City’ collective strung a delicate web trapping tragic and lovelorn creatures (and the odd sweary butterfly) on London’s South Bank, then swiftly followed it up with beautifully crafted episodes from the nursery rhyme ‘Oranges & Lemons’ in the City of London.

Continue reading »

Aug 29
Elsa Schiaparelli's Bowknot Sweater

Elsa Schiaparelli's Bowknot Sweater

Ever since I saw a sketch of Elsa Schiaparelli’s beautiful trompe l’oeil bowknot sweater in a 1930s Stitchcraft, I’ve been trying to work out how to recreate it for myself but couldn’t get my head around the unusual looking texture … should’ve known the pattern was already out there.  Not only that, you can download it for free from Schoolhouse Press. It was adapted by Lisa Stockebrand from the Philadelphia Museum of Art (prior to an exhibition in 2003) to accommodate a more modern fit, and suggests you use Jamieson & Smith 2-ply.

I like a challenge which is lucky as it doesn’t look easy – La Schiap used a special double layered stitch created by Armenian refugees whereby you hold the main color in your right hand and knit with it as in “American” style knitting, then carry the contrasting color in left hand as in “Continental” style knitting (and that’s only part of it).  Inevitably and thankfully there’s a specific Ravelry ‘Schiaparelli Bowknot Group’ to help you through the tough spots.

Italian Schiaparelli was heavily influenced by the surrealist and Dadaist art, counting Cocteau, Dali and Giacometti amongst her collaborators.  This sweater, along with her shoe hat, is one of her most influential pieces.

As ever, I want to get started on it immediately.  There’s just the small matter of two other jumpers I’ve been extremely close to finishing for a while now, another one I’ve just started and a  nasty case of knitter’s elbow to overcome dammit.  Still, I’ve waited this long, what’s another couple of weeks/months/years?

Jul 28
Yarn Forward Vintage Knitting

Yarn Forward Vintage Knitting article

There’s a nice short article in this month’s Yarn Forward magazine about Vintage Knitting by Susan Crawford (popular this month).  She highlights the joy and pain of knitting from vintage patterns, but makes a great point which isn’t always obvious … not only are we drawn to the fantastic, flattering designs and images, but also to “the women who knitted from them, who despite everything created beautiful clothes for themselves and their families using very limited resources and even less cash.” Well said.

I think some of us tend to have a secret heroine (or two) in our heads against whom we constantly compare ourselves – sometimes we live up to the fantasy, sometimes we fall short.  Despite our best attempts we’re human and just can’t emulate them in every single way … but if you’ve got a plucky, elegant 1940s heroine perched on a pedestal in your psyche, knitting brings you that bit closer to her.  She embodies the ‘stiff upper lip’ bravery which we associate with that era and yet still manages to look great during the most difficult of times.  Knitters of the 1940s, we salute you!

Jul 20
er ... Joyce Meader?

er ... Joyce Meader?

The excellent ‘I Knit London’ are holding a weekender from 11th – 12th September with scheduled events including workshops, classes and presentations.

I spotted a couple of workshops to lure the vintage knitter: the first one features Susan Crawford (knitwear designer, knitting teacher and lecturer in fashion and textiles).  Susan is co-author (and publisher) of the newly republished A Stitch in Time, apparently her presentation on Vintage Knitwear is not to be missed!  You can catch Susan on Friday 11th September between 4pm – 6pm.

The second one is held by Joyce Meader, an historical hand-knitting expert. She has a wide and extensive collection of commercially printed patterns from the 1840s to the present day which are used to hand knit items for museums, re-enactors and for private commissions.  Joyce will be hosting a free presentation and discussion of Knitted Comforts for Your Soldiers from Crimea to Today and showing some of her vast collection on Saturday 12th September between 12pm – 2pm.

You can find more information on these events at the I Knit London website.

Jul 15
Afternoon Jumper

Afternoon Jumper

I’ve added a rather splendid downloadable free pattern to Skiff’s Free Vintage Knitting Pattern section, this one from a 1956 edition of Stitchcraft.  Elegant stripes around the welts make this ‘Afternoon Style Jumper’ stand out (clearly not deemed suitable for the morning), finished off with a natty striped tie effect. I’ve added this to my ‘to knit’ list – let me know if you complete it and we can compare notes!

Jul 13
Smocked Vegetables

Smocked Vegetables

Came across this rather brilliant and slightly surreal picture whilst browsing the Embroiders Guild website the other day – a trug full of smocked vegetables on display at the Whitchurch Silk Mill in Hampshire until 4th October 2009.  It’s part of a larger exhibition – ‘Smocks & Smocking – From the Field to Fashion’ and is made by 4 dedicated (and patient) members of the ‘Smocking Branch’.

The mill itself looks pretty fascinating … a rare relic of the 19th century silk trade which is still managing to produce, albeit in limited quantities.

I’ve never tried or even considered smocking so wouldn’t even know where to start with this.  Shan’t be experimenting with it myself any time soon but wouldn’t mind catching the exhibition and a quick glimpse into the textile industry’s past.

Jul 11
Authentic Oilcloth

Authentic Oilcloth

A nice article on how to create your own oilcloth instead of buying in the PVC stuff, using refined lindseed oil.  Apart from the benefits of using your own fabric or even creating your own design, using lindseed oil makes the fabric bio-degradable unlike it’s ready-made alternative.  The results look pretty good, I feel an experiment coming on …

Jul 9

vintage_tips_illI’ve converted my online vintage knitting tips page into a .pdf for those long evenings when you’ve got nothing else to read.  What do you mean you’ve got a busy social life?  Well if nothing else, it’s a handy guide to keep by your side when you’re starting out on a new vintage knitting project, or swearing pointlessly at a Bestway twin set pattern and shouting “but what do you mean by Patons Fingering 3-ply?”.  It’s probably not definitive but certainly helps to set you on the path.  Happy reading.

» Download Vintage Knitting Pattern Tips .pdf

Jul 3
It's alive!

It's alive!

Hmm, came across these I stored in a drawer a few months ago.  Must have got a bit excited with my free-form sewing foot and ‘sketched’ out a couple of sea creatures on some crisp, white Irish linen from my stash.  Must do some more of this – I love the fact that the foot allows you to doodle and scribble with your sewing machine, so liberating.

I used some of that dissolvable tracing stuff and a Sharpie to sketch out the design first (has to be insoluble ink or it’ll end up over the fabric when you wash it away) … handy hint if you’re trying it at home:  stretch the fabric over a largeish embroidery hoop before you start (with the hoop upside down if you see what I mean) otherwise the foot will pucker up the fabric.  You might need to remove the foot first to get the hoop underneath.

Grumpy lobster

Grumpy lobster

The more detail you put into the picture, the more effective it is – a bit of shading here and there is a nice touch.

Nice as they are, I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do with them … any suggestions (be nice)?  Toying with the idea of a quilt again at the moment so might do a few more and use them as patches.

Jun 27

arrowJust caught Crosby, Stills & Nash on Glastonbury TV highlights. Initial forgivings and a feeling of wishing I could cling onto an image of how they used to be (before my time you understand … only just) were replaced with relief when I saw that there were still flashes of brilliance, particularly from the age-spotted, plump figures of Crosby & Stills – Nash seemed to be playing by numbers (I’m sure he’ll be devasted – don’t tell him I said so).

Sent me scurrying back to two of my favourite all-time solo projects – the eponymously-named Stephen Stills (1970) and David Crosby’s ‘If Only I Could Remember My Name’ (1971).  The former I bought on vinyl about 20 years ago because the cover was so amusing in a kitsch, ironic way and I adored ‘Love The One You’re With’, but only really properly listened to it a few years later.  Joyous soul-filling tracks, still sounded great at the vinyl night in the local a few months back (gratifying revelry and wonderment on my co-drinkers’ faces as I passed the cover round).  The latter I bought a few years ago after hearing it on Stuart Maconie’s wonderful ‘Freak Zone’ where he lauded the stealthy menace of ‘What Are Their Names’.200px-stephenstills

And these were made AFTER the brilliance of Buffalo Springfield & CSNY … jeeze, the body of work these two men have produced is ridiculous (over-shadowed by the genius of their former band mate Neil Young of course).  David Crosby & Stephen Stills, we salute you.

Post-Script: Needless to say, Neil Young came on afterwards and righteously rocked.

Jun 26
Fragrant Theatre Characters

Fragrant Theatre Characters

I’m writing this feature with a certain amount of jealousy.  The subject is the incredibly gifted and prolific Maker/Artist Ana-Luisa de Cavilla Scrutton who goes under the name of Running Hare.  We’ve been selling some of her gorgeous hand-sewn items and gifts in the shop since she introduced herself with a box full of one-off Christmas decorations … needless to say we quickly sold out.  She has this way with a needle which makes each item look like it’s been sketched in thread by an artist with an impressionist’s eye, and each one is completely unique. The use of sustainable, natural, organic materials combined with vintage fabrics and trimmings add to that individual feel.

I think what really makes her stand out is her choice of subjects … Punch & Judy and ‘Noah and his family’ sit alongside gardeners and shepherds at work, without a hint of rural tweeness.

Favourites?  I’m spoilt for choice, but I love the ‘fragrant theatre characters’ series (main picture) and the linen hare buttons.runninghare3

Did I mention she also paints and sketches? Some people are just born with it … if you’re stuck for gifts, chances are you’ll find something special on the Running Hare website.

Jun 5
pink elegance

it's not that I've got a thing for pink but ...

Getting very excited about my next vintage project – a blouse pattern from Vogue Knitting No.35 with ‘a deep tuck-lined bib with tiny round collar’.  I’ve had a scan through the instructions and can’t see any glaring errors, so fingers crossed shouldn’t be too complicated.  I’m tempted by the skirt (you can knit it as a dress or separates), but I’m not sure I’m ready to brave one yet … looks simple enough but the time factor could be of biblical proportions. I could start it and keep it going on in the background, but I think by the time I finish it the blouse will be faded through use!

I haven’t really got a thing for pink, but I do quite like the idea of the pale pink in the picture (although am toying with the idea of black with white trimmings) … need to do some tension square but I’m hoping that Jamieson & Smith’s jumper weight 2-ply will do the job.

Just the small matter of finishing the other vintage pattern I’m working on now … so much to do …

Jun 2
1940s Bestway pullover

1940s Bestway pullover

I’ve added a couple of free vintage knitting patterns to the site to download in .pdf format … a 1940s Bestway sleeveless pullover (see left) and an unusual 1950s Lee Target cardigan. I’m hoping to add some more as I go along so keep checking back here for the next installment.

Rather loving the hairstyle on the cover of the Bestway too, she looks great.

May 16
it holds wool too!

it holds wool too!

A frantic late-night, last-minute bidding frenzy saw the the latest addition to my ‘wish-it-was-the-40s’ vintage knitting fest arriving on my doormat yesterday. It’s  pink, it’s bakelite, it goes rather nicely with my vintage Lee Target Campanula wool.

I love it in a way that’s bordering on pointlessness (apart from the fact that it has a purpose and is actually extremely practical). The bottom screws off to put the wool in, and there’s a handy needle gauge incorporated. I’m thinking of petitioning Patons to re-make them in a range of colours, but then plastic just wouldn’t cut it in the way that bakelite does. Feels so solid and smooth and satisfying.

They were manufactured between 1930-1960, although I’m not geek enough to know if there are any ways of checking the dates through any design quirks (anyone out there got any more details?). They come in green, red, orange, cream and blue too … I feel a senseless collection coming on.

May 8
Watch out for that right hook

Watch out for that right hook

I know it’s a bit old hat to laugh patronisingly at kitsch and quirky images from yesteryear … but check out this kitsch and quirky vintage knitting pattern I just came across (laughs patronisingly).

Looks like a lot of thought went into setting up this mis en scene, so I’m trying to get imagine the storyboard meeting: man comes home from work, he’s been slogging at a dull 9-5 he hates.  The boss hates him, the feeling’s mutual, he feels impotent and frustrated … but he’s got dreams, he’ll fight his way out of this somehow.  He opens the door and finds a bunch of women in his living room – they are (from l to r) his sister-in-law, his sister and his wife.  This irritates him even more – he’s out earning a dollar while they sit at home chatting and knitting.  But wait, what’s this?  Darn them all, they’re wearing HIS SWEATERS!

He threatens them with a right hook – they laugh coquettishly, they’ve seen it all before, he’ll never carry out his threat.  But maybe he will this time, maybe this is just enough to push him over the edge …

Well, whatever the outcome, I figure the formidable lady on the far left would give as good as she gets so he’d better watch out.

Apr 19
Toy Car Launcher

Toy Car Launcher

Yes that’s right, it launches cars.  Go on, the weekend’s not over yet, this would really make you feel like you’d done something cool with your time instead of wasting it spending time outdoors having fun with your family and friends, building happy memories. All that stuff’s over-rated.

You know you want to … instructions to make one here.

Apr 16
Robson & Mason's basket of needles

Robson & Mason's basket of needles

Browsing through the wonderful Made in England site on a recommendation from Mr W (being geeky and admiring the animated icon) and came across a link to a great haberdashery site I’d forgotten about – Robson & Mason.  Great site, easy to use, lovely trimmings missus.

Check out the vintage basket needles & threader.

Apr 10
How to Knit

How to Knit

Okay, it wasn’t a figment of my imagination, my ridiculous imaginary project I’d dreamed up to keep me company instead of doing any real work … here it is! No really, it’s a book about How To Knit (did you guess from the title?). And you can download it from this site, lucky you. It includes a cool 1940s dress trimming pattern as an easy first project, hopefully to tempt you further down the road into those wonderful vintage suits and blouses.

Tell your friends and watch out for the next one, coming soon … well … this year sometime, hopefully, erm … did I mention it’s the first in a series?

Apr 8
laquila_map1

L'Aquila

The news from L’Aquila this week continues to get worse as the death toll rises and hope fades for any more survivors. The heart-wrenching scenes of horror and grief were lent a quantum of relief yesterday when a 98-year-old Maria D’Antuono was pulled from the rubble after 30 hours of interment. How did she pass the time? She got busy with her hook and wool and did a bit of crocheting. Not only is this testament to the amazing lady’s strength, but also to the way craft can see us through some bad times. Through every personal crisis in my life I’ve always had some knitting on the go, a way to switch off and produce something positive in a bad time. In fact my craft output often intensifies during dark days – go figure. Don’t need to preach to the converted – anyone reading this probably feels the same and I don’t want to be flippant about a tragedy, so enough said.

Meantime, Red Cross are running an appeal for the victims.

Mar 28

arrowListening to a nice bit of soulful June Tabor from a little folky compilation I’ve put together while I’m finishing off my booket.

Wind and Rain is a cheery little gothic piece about sororicide (I had to look that one up) which would sit quite nicely alongside Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads, and yet has this cheery toe-tapping quality. always Her voice sounds like the wind itself so it does.

I think the folk revival is ensuring that her unique voice is getting the overdue recognition she deserves … June Tabor, we salute you.

Mar 28
How to Knit

How to Knit

I haven’t blogged for a week or so – not just being lazy, I’ve been trying to finish off a small booklet I’ve been working on about knitting basics.  Should be finished in the next few days so I’ll post it when I’m done in a .pdf format.  It’s the first of 3 or 4 instalments and covers the very basics – casting on, knit & purl, casting off … I’ve been working on it for the last few months and it’ll be good to finally get it out there – check out the free 1940s dress trim pattern!

Mar 17
Knit & Run Stash

Knit & Run Stash

This Knit & Tonic article made me grin and rang a few bells … I get so obsessed with one particular craft it almost becomes stressful and I have to take up another craft to relieve the pressure.  Admittedly it’s not a professional day job and I’m not writing a book, but you get the gist.

Reminded me too of an article in this month’s Yarn Forward magazine which encourages you to take up weaving if ‘you find yourself in a SABLE position – Stash Acquisition Beyond Life Expectancy).  The picture  on the left is a very small part of my own amorphous and ever-growing Stash – I have to agree with one of the comments on the Knit & Tonic article … I have this horrible feeling that if I took up weaving I’d find I didn’t have the right shades I was after and just end up adding to it.  I almost expect to come home and find bits of it trickling out of the door, growing up the side of the house like vines.  A knitting horror movie?  Now there’s a thought.

Mar 16
Knit Me, Trafalgar Square

Knit Me, Trafalgar Square

Looks like it went well!  Congrats Kat, and good luck with your show.

Mar 15
A Cross Heron

A Cross Heron

Our lovely friends Ged & Wendy have just moved to an old rambling farmhouse in Devon, acquiring 2 kittens, a pig and a couple of hens along the way (much to the delight of their own brood).  Ged’s an artist and film art director and Wendy lectures and researches in sexual and social history, so between them they have this great ability to collect and compile unusual things.  Their latest is a bunch of heron drawings, created by friends and relatives and it’s completely intriguing – so many different styles and different interpretations, it’s an off the wall and absorbing collection.

I’ve thrown in my contribution with this machine sewed chappie on duck canvas, but he ended up looking a bit grumpy – wouldn’t want to meet him on a dark night.

Mar 12
Knit me flier

Knit me flier

Kat Hall has organised Knit Me, a collaborative knitting event in Trafalgar Square this Saturday 14th March – as each person turns up, they have to join onto the main piece of knitting using their own needles, wool and imagination.

An unfeasibly excellent thing to do, although sadly can’t make it myself so am looking forward to seeing the outcome.

Mar 12
Handmade Nation

Handmade Nation

Looking forward to the release of Handmade Nation, a film by Faythe Levine (“filmmaker, author, independent curator and creative director” – some people are so lazy), but rather disconcerted to see that the only scheduled screenings in the UK are in Birmingham and Manchester (as far as I can see anyway), so I’ve contacted Faythe to find out if there are any more planned.

Looking at Faythe’s blog I scrolled down to her Indie Craft Fair’s section … now it might be that I’m looking in the wrong places, but I’d love to see this kind of quantity, hip-sounding, vibrant and non-elitist network of events in the UK (Urban Uprising, Crafty Bastards etc).

Inevitably, the events where Faythe is screening prove me wrong – UK DIY (“a craft uprising in the North of England”) and the Flatpack Festival (which is taking place as I type), but we need a few more.  Near me in Brighton we have the great annual Brighton Craft Fair, Made, but it’s enormous and the kind of thing I have in mind is a smaller, more community based affair.

There’s a bit of a fusty air around craft here (as I’ve ranted many times before) and things tend to reek of ye olde England and country shows, we need a more exciting fair network to get going.  The fact that when you Google ‘uk craft fairs’ nothing much comes up doesn’t mean that there aren’t any, just means they aren’t getting the web space, network gossip or press they deserve.

If you’re reading this and shouting out that I’m wrong, please let me know, I’d love to know where and when they are … if they’re out there they certainly need some SEO advice!

Mar 10
How to Make Common Things

How to Make Common Things

Loving the latest addition to my vintage craft library … How To Make Common Things (for Boys).  Written by J.A.Bower and published in 1902 by the Society For Promoting Christian Knowledge, this was obviously an attempt to keep the male youth of the day on the straight and narrow (idle hands and all that).  There’s also a note that it was ‘Published under the direction of the General Literature Committee’ – how very Orwellian.  I’d love to know what kind of age-group it was aimed at – I imagine early teens, as some of the projects are quite involved: ‘How to Make Simple Apparatus for Chemical Experiments’, ‘To Make a Galvonometer’ and, fascinatingly, ‘How to Make A Telephone’.  Mind you they weren’t so hot on health and safety then, so maybe there were some scarred-for-life 7 year olds out there (all in the name of religion of course).

The inscription at the front of the book reads that it was presented to (appropriately) Fred Lord ‘for learning and repeating psalms’, although the odds were stacked in his favour with a name like that. The pencilled name on the opposite page is ‘Alan Lord’ so maybe he passed it onto his son.  I’d like to try out some of the experiments in the book with my own son, and just hope I haven’t lost him to computer gamedom and cynicism by the time he’s old enough to ‘Make a Needle Telegraph’

Mar 8

arrowDates me a bit, this one, but in for a penny … back in the early ’90s when all the world seemed young and gay, Senseless Things were the soundtrack to a part of my life for a while.  I was into Jamie Hewlett, Deadline and Love & Rockets, and Senseless Things seemed to inhabit the cartoon landscape I wanted to be a part of (escapist? me?)  They even looked like they’d been drawn by Hewlett, Keds particularly resembling a Fireball contestant.  Cass the drummer is now working with Gorillaz so it all tied in rather neatly at the end there.senselessfirst_large

Anyway, they were fun and Got It At The Delmar is still a great piece of pop and I’m humming and toe-tapping along nicely while sewing a heron … more of which later.

Mar 5
The Make Lounge

The Make Lounge

I know from my Sadler’s Wells days that Islington’s a bit of a craft mecca … the Craft Council, Loop, the Contemporary Art & Design Fair, I could go on but won’t.  So I wasn’t surprised to see a piece in the paper the other day about The Make Lounge, a cool craft place “where you can ‘meet people and make stuff,’ through evening and weekend contemporary craft workshops”.  According to the founder, Jennifer Tirtle, she needed more tactile experiences after hours of being glued to her computer in her day job as a journalist so started The Make Lounge.  The idea behind the concept is a series of short craft courses for people who don’t want to spend a fortune on lengthy evening or day courses.

The courses sound great and interesting, titles such as ‘Survival Sewing’ and ‘Knockout Knickers’ kick the dull and dusty out of craft, but also have a practical use.  They do parties too – sadly, that would be my preferred kind of hen party and I’d be sending any affianced acquaintances scurrying to the website, but most of my mates are married nowadays.

Cool website too, nice and clear, inventive header fonts …

I don’t get up to town too often at the moment but this would be worth the trip.  They do gift vouchers (*HEAVY HINT*).

Mar 1
Crocheted letter 'E'

Laura's Left Hook

There aren’t many things that make me want to pick up a hooked needle, but this is one of them – what a cool way to crochet.  I’d like to experiment with these, doing them in different fonts, maybe even some joined up handwriting, but then I am a rotten geek.

Mar 1
vintage cushions

vintage cushions

I made some cushions out of a floral vintage pelmet (finished off with some old, small pearl buttons), which ‘Le Magasin’, the stylish antique/coffee shop in Cliffe High Street are proudly displaying in their windows.  Rather nicely set off by a bit of rural gothic draped over the back of the chair, although the fur in question doesn’t look too chuffed about it.

Feb 28
The last Craft magazine

The last Craft magazine

So goodbye then, Craft magazine, I shall miss you plopping onto my doormat every quarter. True you’ll continue through articles in the associate magazine Made, but Made always seems to focus on the mechanical, time-consuming and ‘need a bit of know-how’ projects.  Your great website Craftzine will continue, but it’s not the same as having a good old flick and dog-earing the pages of an interesting article while you’re in the bath (something about laptops and water …)

I’m not quite sure why we can’t do a good old modern craft magazine in this country – they’re either of the Woman’s Own knitting variety or bordering on the high-brow like the Craft Council’s Crafts magazine (which, incidentally, is very good but does articles about the high-end crafts exhibition community rather than making you feel a part of an exciting at-home movement which is doing it for themselves).  I’ve always felt there’s still a snobbery about craft in this country which hasn’t caught up with the current wave – it’s perceived either as strange warty women smelling of cat wee and crocheting tasteless tat, or cutting edge new-wave Hoxton dwellers incorporating a bit of ironic craft into their highly priced art pieces.

Anyway, I digress as ever.  My point was originally going to be something about web vs. print – I remember when I first started out as a web designer and my graphic design friends were so snotty about it as the virtual web couldn’t convey the sensory experience, the texture, colour and depth (or even smell) of an actual piece.  I felt dashed about it at the time and thought they were being snobs, but I find myself agreeing now … although all things webwise have levelled out and it certainly holds an important place in our lives, you can’t do without a good old piece of print.  Your world can’t exist in a 1024 x 768 pixel format, nothing beats the joy of discovering an old craft book in a second-hand shop and smelling that damp paper smell and gloating over the vintage fonts and adverts, or discovering a well crafted, well thought-out publication.

So it’s sad, you’ll be missed here at least, but at least you went out on a bang – Amy Sedaris’ piece was hysterical.  Oh well, still got Selvedge to look forward to.

Feb 24
Knitting Fashions of the 1940s

Knitting Fashions of the 1940s

Well 1940 didn’t rhyme.  Ah, Knitting Fashions of the 1940s … I’ve had my eye on this book for ages and now it’s mine, all mine.  I’ve ordered some great jumper weight 2-ply from Jamieson & Smith, a wonderful Shetland wool specialist in Scotland, I’ve got my size 12 needles and I’m ready to go.  Sometimes it’s nice to knit up a vintage pattern knowing that someone has done the adapting for you, although I’m still lining up some originals … I think if you’ve got the patience to knit on small needles with fine wool you can make some wonderful garments which you just won’t see anywhere else.  Occasionally though I just need a quick fix for something quick and easy in between, so I’m knitting a small jumper for Lucas at the same time.

Jan 15
Chair Fabric

Chair Fabric

Here’s the cool ’50s fabric I’m planning to do my new chair up with – just hope it’s not another year before I post the end results.

This atomic fabric is getting so expensive now, there seems to be a huge demand for it out there (at least on Ebay).  It’s nigh on impossible to find it in the old haunts too (charity shops, junk shops don’t even seem to exist any more) so nab it where you can.

Jan 12
New chair

New chair

Here’s the latest addition to my upholstery cannon which has been cluttering up our house for the last few months looking sorry for itself.  I honestly thought I’d finish that big old bird sooner but it dragged on, and in the meantime I’ve acquired a few more projects looking at me forlornly and accusingly: ‘you said I’d be looking great in a couple of months’.

This patient has a broken back and a couple of splits but a bit of aruldite, some splints, a bit of rubbing down and a lick of paint should sort it right out.  I bought it at an antique shop down the road for a fiver, so nothing to lose. I’m planning to use a scrap of 50s fabric, although I might change my mind as it comes along.

Jan 10
Finished chair

Finished chair

My first blog entry was a lengthy description of the battered up old chair I was planning to re-upholster and a promise to blog about my progress as I went along.  You might be forgiven for thinking I’d ditched the whole idea as it has never graced these pages since (my niece-in-law recently wittily commented on the entry ‘glad you kept us all updated’, sarky miss).  Well if you did you were WRONG – I’ve only gorn and finished it.  *Mumbles* only took me a year and a half.

Pretty chuffed overall, although Chairman Miaow the fat cat is putting the springs to the test, so I can’t really see it staying pristine for much longer.  Also a good place to hide Lucas’ train track underneath which you can just see peeping out.  Now onto the next …

Dec 28
Cath Kidston knitting bag & needles

Cath Kidston knitting bag & needles

My dearest friend bought me these gorgeous bamboo needles and case by Cath Kidston for Christmas.  I’ve been promising myself for years that I’d start a new collection of needles – I’ve always used my Mum’s old-fashioned metal ones (plus a few fancy plastic ones she must have splashed out on somewhere along the line) so it was a joy to find how beautiful and smooth these ones are.  They’re textured enough that the stitches don’t slip off unnecessarily, but smooth enough to let them slide when needs be.  Feel good on your fingers too.

Then to top it all she’s bought me a knitting bag for my birthday – did I mention she’s my dearest friend?!

I tried hard not to like Cath Kidston for a long time – her stuff’s everywhere and the designs seemed too obvious – but she’s really got a great eye for vintage designs and it’s hitting the mark at the moment, so I’m drawn into her Brighton shop whenever I’m there.  There’s an interesting range of 40s inspired clothes at the moment and I’m never one to turn away from a retro vintage (inspired) dress or two.  The website’s rather lovely too.

Dec 8
Vintage craft books

Vintage craft books

I’m adding to my vintage craft book collection and it’s such a joy to go through the pages I thought I’d share some of them here.

I feel such a geek listing them … erm, some justification was meant to finish this sentence but I can’t find one, I am a geek.

They exude an enthusiasm which I feel around again at the moment in the craft revival and I think they’re apt for right now.  Many of them are from the war or just post-war period so they were a necessity – how to use your scraps, how to make do and mend, and the Government issued leaflets along similar lines.  Just think, not only was craft seen as a great and useful hobby, it was of national importance!

They include:

  • ‘Pins & Needles: Treasure of Family Needlework’ (2nd ed 1953)
  • ‘Modern Knitting Illustrated’ (1st ed, approx 1945)
  • ‘Wooden Toymaking Step by Step’ (2nd ed, 1963)
  • ‘Practical Knitting Illustrated’ (1st ed, approx 1940)
  • ‘Encyclopedia of Needlework’ by Therese de Dillmont (1st ed, 1897)
  • ‘Gifts You Can Make Yourself’ (1st ed, c.1940s)

I think we’re at a time when recycling and cutting back are high on our agenda at the moment so I can only think the craft renaissance will continue.  Materials can be so expensive now – if you look at the knitting books on the shop shelves you’d be forgiven for thinking that there are only about 3 wool manufacturers worth buying wool from, and that a size 12 jumper will cost a minimum of £45 to knit up.  It’s about time we saw some cheaper alternatives coming to the fore, but I think that will only happen when knitters develop the confidence to experiment a bit more, to read their wool bands, do their tension squares and think ‘hmm, this will knit up the same as that Rowan wool for half the price’.  I’ve been a sucker for that myself in the past but no more, I’m going to do some more research and find out some good quality alternatives.

It’s time there was a bit of a backlash against the expensive brands – in these times of fiscal need, craft should be a more satisfying and fulfilling way of saving a bit of wedge here and there.

Nov 15
Lucas jumper

Lucas jumper

Knitting this cute little jumper for Lucas at the moment on circular needles – it’s taking its own sweet time as I’m using 3mm needles and a rather fine cotton, but it has a jaunty sailor air and I’m rather looking forward to seeing the finished article.  Mind you he’s growing at a rate of knots so I’d better look sharp about it in case he gets too big for it.

The yarn is Drops Safran by Scandinavian company Garnstudio.  It’s soft, good quality and very reasonable too.  They also do a nice range of needles and free knitting patterns, so definitely worth checking out.

Oct 18
Retro kitchen fabric

Retro kitchen fabric

Seem to have developed a bit of a craze for retro kitchen fabric of late and, as ever, Ebay is supplying my need.  Not quite sure what I’m going to do with it yet but I like the theme.  Cushions seem too ordinary and a bit of a dull use of such great fabric, I keep seeing these great pieces of fabric made up into cushions on Ebay and it seems a bit of a shame.  Having said that, many of the surviving fabric from this time can be only be bought in scraps so there’s not an awful lot more you can do with them, so you never know.  Something more substantial would be cool, so I might have to look for some more chairs to do up.

The bottom  piece you can see is a pair of curtains so quite a lot to play around with there, might even keep them as curtains.

Sep 15
Coffee Sacks

Coffee Sacks

Saw this great Scarecrow Kit on Hen & Hammock and being a dedicated crafter thought I’d try one out for myself.  I bought 10 coffee sacks on Ebay for £7 – bargain!  I’m pretty sure they’re giving them away out the back of nearby specialist coffee shops, but I had a rotten cold and couldn’t face the mad conversation which was likely to ensue.  That’s the beauty of Ebay – anonymity.

Anyways, they arrived in a big box and I hid them away before my husband could raise an eyebrow.  They’re actually rather nice things – lovely jute, loose weave, cool prints, and there are millions of them cluttering up landfills so they tick the recycling boxes too.  And obviously they smell of luverly rich, dark coffee.  Now I’ve got them cluttering up the spare room, I’m pretty sure I’m not going to get round to doing anything scarecrowlike with them anytime soon (what was I thinking? We’ve only got a tiny garden anyway), so I’m thinking of other uses … like upholstering a chair, could be great.

If you feel driven to do the same, use items like Hen & Hammock’s peg bag for inspiration, and Etsy have a heap of cool bags and purses for sale made out of coffee sacks (with varying results).  If you can’t be bothered to go to your local coffee outlet, I’d be wary of paying anything over £1 each for these things.  Although they’re invaluable to the crafter, there are thousands of them out there and they’re not hard to come by.   Another resource is coffee community forums, such as Too Much Coffee, where coffee shop owners are posting questions about what to do with their sacks!

They’re the poor, modern cousins of the mightily expensive vintage linen grain sacks and I can see big things for them.

Aug 8

Alright I know I said no more trying to be clever with the titles, but it made me laugh. Sock … Rock? Oh forget it, it was tenuous anyway. A friend recommended this wonderful site, Cardigan in Brighton. Seems to be getting a good deal of recognition now – good on ‘em. Check out these gorgeous butterflies – ties in this Wunderkammer stuff occupying a small drawer in my head at the mo.

Off to France on holiday for a couple of weeks – knackered but reinspired at the mo, hope to come back refreshed and raring to craft.

Aug 6

Well things have been getting just a bit too twee down here in Tweeshire … a year after moving from the big smoke and I’ve swallowed the whole ‘so much for the city’ tagline, jam making and all, but now I need to mix it up a bit. So I’m going to add a bit of macabre into the melee. This small pair of antlers just called out to me today from the junkshop window down the road (and speaking as an ex-vegetarian of 15 years I tried to ignore it but failed).

I think death never seems nearer than when you’re in the countryside – you’re closer to all that cyclical thing of stuff dying and re-growing (or, if it’s unlucky enough, being eaten). Hence the start of what I hope to be a small collection of what I’m calling rural gothic. I’ve got a sewing project mumbling to me over my shoulder based on the theme so I might even do something about it if it decides to speak up a bit louder please.

Aug 6

The lady from Wickle came by into the shop the other day, all flowing and fragrant and threw away some comment like “I think functional things should also always be beautiful” and I went “Oh yes totally, I completely agree” and then came home and looked at all our grotty functional things and sighed. So I embroidered a crazy tiki tiki towel for the kitchen instead of the grotty old green one we had. Then I thought bad things like “but grotty green might be someone’s idea of beautiful” and “aren’t there other things I should be doing?” …

Anyhoo, for anyone who’s interested, towelling is a bugger to embroider onto, best off using tissue paper to transfer your design onto.

Aug 1


Got rather intrigued with making pop-ups recently, so started off with some gentle experimentation on Lucas’ 2nd birthday invites. The lion’s there because he’s a Leo. Get it? Here’s a hint – use a very sharp, small pair of scissors (and even then it’ll take you forever).

Jul 28

Stop stop I hear you cry, not another piece of embroidery gift frippery palmed off on a poor unwitting friend’s child? (well I say friend …) When will this torture stop.

Jul 27

Another birthday, another embroidered present. This time a framed rocket ship to the moon for a friend’s little boy. Stitches are old outlining favourites, split stitch, bit of back stitch and some fillers.

Jul 14

Jul 6

So a carer at Warner Jnr’s nursery left to have a baby and since the class he’s in is called Penguins I took it rather literally and … you guessed it … I sewed up this little jangly penguin for her new monkey, complete with bell inside ‘n’ all. Still loving this felt embroidery stuff, so tactile and shakeable … and now janglable too.

Jun 12

I’ve started making up some cushions for the v.stylish antique shop down the road – they seem to have this never-ending treasure trove of vintage fabric which they sell to discerning customers for soft furnishings generally. Style-de-jour is the loose-woven linen sack material so sought after at the moment, and a customer needed a couple of cushions made up at short notice, so here they are. Three antique French buttons (of course) close the back, and I’ve overlocked the edges to prevent fraying.

I’m using a similar fabric to upholster my chair (on which the cushions are so stylishly modelled ahem) but have only just reached the fabric bit, so it was good to try it out on something smaller first. It’s quite tough and slubby at times, but so hard-wearing and forgiving when it comes to a household full of cats, dogs, 2-year-olds … at least that’s what I’m hoping.

Jun 8

I never knew I had such a thing about buttons, but apparently I have … for this week anyway.  My mother-in-law has very kindly donated me her own mother’s button collection and as a bonus, check out the gorgeous tin they’re in!  Looks like a hat box non?  Well you’re wrong, it once contained 7lbs of Batger’s (Leading Confectioners since 1748 apparently) Jersey Toffees – SEVEN POUNDS!   Perhaps the buttons were collected for adjusting the formidable lady’s waistbands once the contents had been consumed?  Anyway, many thanks to Mrs W for passing it onto me, I shall treasure it dearly.

Jun 6

14th June apparently … you know it makes sense, whip those needles out and do it in public. Or in my case maybe just browse their website and think about doing it, really convince yourself you’re going to do it, but probably won’t get around to it, so maybe next year? Actually, like, I knit in public A LOT not just on one particular day okay?

Yeah and my thumbnail pictures are bigger now, what of it?

Jun 3

As you can see I’m still totally uninspired when it comes to titles for these posts … I’m starting a new regime of say what you see, no clever trying to be funny business.

So, having discovered the wonderful world of Marimekko fabric (better late than never) swiftly followed by an offcuts spending spree on Ebay, I was left with the small problem of what to actually do with them all. I decided to use scraps as backing on some of my small embroidery projects, including the Jura deer (see entry below), which reminded me that I need to polish my act up when it comes to presentation. So I printed out some small labels using printable fabric sheets (yes I know you can print your own fabric on a laserjet using freezer paper but my attempts have all led to a massive printer jam), gathered up the top with dishwasher cotton and hey presto. Pretty sweet huh? At least my Christmas pressies will look marginally more impressive this year (marginally being the operative word).

May 25

I finally got around to making a little something for those lovely people at Ardlussa on Jura who helped us out when our car got stuck in a muddy field. Went off in search of help with the little fella in tow, leaving the big fella behind me swearing like a trooper, when round the corner arrived our goddess saviour with kiddies in tow and one on the way. Since Jura’s nickname is ‘The Island of Deer’, I thought this might be appropriate … a small stuffed embroidered deer for the new arrival. Also just happens to be a good way of carrying on my Doodle stitch odyssey.

It felt like a really nice, compact and tactile thing and I’ve got a few similar animal projects in mind currently keeping me awake at night.

May 20

God it’s official, I’m a craft geek. Found myself in a quilting shop in the Needlemakers last week getting all hot and bothered about buttons, of all things. Half an hour later and a few quid lighter I was still sufficiently excited about the whole experience to take a picture of purchased buttons and write a post about them – AREN’T THEY GREAT? Put it down to retail euphoria …

May 16

Embroidered cushionStill enjoying the delights of embroidery at the moment, and in my quieter moments in the shop I’m managing to sort some little presents out. A friend’s getting married next week so I’ve made them this little momento pillow, stuffed with lavender. The theme’s meant to be seeds, putting down roots – geddit? Not really sure what earthly use it is to them, but I had a lot of fun doing it!

May 13

Wow, an imaginative, creative and yet useful promo download from a commercial website for once … in a tribute to the blonde icy legend, Hermes have got a ‘Download Your Kelly‘ section on their website where you can choose a cutout handbag design, print it, fold it, glue it et voila. I’m thinking with a bit of trickery these could be printed onto fabric for a beautiful and more permanent solution … okay on my printer it would only be A4 size, but big enough to keep my make-up in right? (only just)

May 9

TrugWhat better way to hail the start of summer than building a good old Sussex trug to store all that garden produce in. I went on this great course last week organised by Plumpton College at the Netherfield Centre, where they show you how to build a trug from start to finish. I’ve been laughing about it with friends since I booked it … it’s like I’ve picked the most obscure course I could find, and I’ll admit to a brief ‘what was I thinking of?’ moment when I entered the barn at 10am last Friday, but I can’t recommend it enough! Lovely way to spend the day, really meditative as you wittle away at the willow and build the shape. It helped that we had a fantastic tutor, a real craftsman who takes great pride in what he does, loves keeping his craft alive, and hasn’t even hit 40 yet.

Now if I could just stop those damn slugs from eating my tomato plants, I might have something to put in it – you didn’t think that was all homegrown in the photo did you?

Apr 16

Announcing the arrival of a new toy into Lucas’ world … this is what I’ve been doing with my quiet time in the shop! Inspired by Charlotte Gainsbourg’s character Stephanie in Michel Gondry’s ‘The Science of Sleep’ (along with a million other crafters judging by the blogs out there) I got to work making up a pattern for this soft toy horse … in my dreams it gallops free through Lucas’ bedroom.

The mane and tail are made out of dishcloth cotton (a revelation, I love this stuff!), the body’s made from some ticking I had lying around, buttons for eyes and a saddle made out of red felt which I machine embroidered round the edge … et voila. Lucas loves carrying it round the house by the mane and so far it hasn’t fallen apart – I built it tough.  The face and tummy have inbuilt gussets which gives it a bit more dimension and means it can stand up in a wobbly way.

Apr 7

Bear ChairMy default Firefox browser start-up window goes to the Craft: magazine website … I’ve spent many lost hours going off on craft web tangents and forget what it was I originally went online for. Anyway, followed another windy web road today which started off with Shrinky Dinks (don’t ask … another American craft wonder from the ’70s, denied to us Brits) and ended up, somehow, with this great recycling site ‘Recycle This‘. Apart from some ecologically sound ideas, there are appealingly madcap ones, including a link to this recycled teddy bear chair … not sure about the aesthetics, but it sure looks comfy.

Apr 2

FolkwearLoving these sewing patterns straight from the US company Folkwear, particularly the storybook illustrations by Gretchen Shields. The Edwardian intimacies and the Poet’s Blouse made me chuckle, I might even give them a go (although I’m not sure they’d look so good with me for a model).

The story of the company’s an interesting one – started in the mid-’70s by three Californian women, sold to a corporate in the ’80s which helped to develop and re-instate the patterns, and is now independently owned by women again. Long may they continue!

Mar 31

disasterIt seemed like such a good idea at the time … I keep reading about crafters re-cycling their plastic bags by cutting them into strips and either knitting or crocheting them into new bags. Great idea I thought, I’ll give it a whirl. Dug out the old crochet stick, found a pattern, off I went.

As a seasoned crafter I’m used to needing a lot of patience and paying attention to detail, suffering for my craft yada yada, but occasionally there are projects when I think life’s just too short and this is one of them. This occurred to me when my fingers were getting red raw from handling the plastic and my right hand was shaped like a rictus claw, it looked like a spat out, splatted piece of bubblegum and I’d only done about … well you can see for yourself.

So, let’s recap … it was meant to look like this:
plastic2.jpg
It ended up looking like this:
disaster
And it made my finger look like this:
finger.jpg

Recycling as part of your craftery is a very good idea, I’m behind it all the way, keep up the good work chaps … but plastic bags are just horrible, doesn’t matter how you use them. They feel nasty and the end project just isn’t satisfying (well, not when I do it anyway). Having said that, there are some interesting ideas for fusing on the ‘Craft:’ website … maybe my plastic bag days aren’t over yet …

Mar 22

Wool from IslayJust got back from a beautiful week in remote Islay (Inner Hebrides). It’s well known for its bird communities which is why we went. Nah not really, although I am partial to a bit of wildlife bothering. We’d heard of it because of the famous single-malt whisky distilleries and we managed to drink our way through all of them. In between I also managed to squeeze in a visit to the ramshackle Islay Woollen Mill which was completely and beautifully devoid of visitors so I was given a quick tour by Gordon, the owner, and his 3 dogs (including a border terrier called Peanut).

It was of those memorable lost afternoons, wandering around chatting to Gordon about his Victorian looms and ancient machinery which is amazingly still in use (“just needs a daily oiling and a spare part or two from time to time”). He and his wife Sheila create their own designs and still take enormous pride in it, particularly when commissioned by famous clients – their designs have cropped up in the films Braveheart, Rob Roy, Far & Away and Forrest Gump. While I was there, Chanel phoned to confirm their latest order, and Gordon told me about the time the Queen turned up unannounced to say hello as she’s a big fan!

I helped him load some pictures onto his website and, on top of the gorgeous skirt lengths I bought, I was given a lovely scarf for my troubles too. Well worth a visit if you ever find yourself up in those parts. Whisky wasn’t bad either.

Mar 5

eQuilter fabricI keep seeing all these lovely retro fabrics crop up on ebay in the American ‘Fat Quarter’ measurements so I decided to search them out for myself straight from the source. They are, of course, from America and the variety is dazzling. Quilting is so huge over there and I’m warming up to the idea. Not a huge fan of the traditional patchwork stuff as I think I’ve mentioned before, but I like the idea of some tastefully put together fabrics with a beautiful sewn design.

Hugely envious of their choice in the US, so with the dollar so weak against the pound right now I ordered a selection myself from the fabulous eQuilter. My order came through the other day and although I had to pay duty on it, it still worked out pretty reasonable so I think I’ll try it again soon. Haven’t used the fabric for anything yet, but keep getting it down from the shelf and cooing over it.  Must get out more.

Feb 25

Lucaberry scarfHere’s a little scarf I’m working on for Warner Jnr … the pattern was inspired by a pattern from a sock book I picked up. Should be working on a circular needle really, it’d make life easier, but it was one of those things I wanted to get going on the MINUTE i thought of it (using scraps of wool I already have) and I didn’t have the right size circulars. Don’t think it’s going to make it round the little guy’s neck until next winter, I’m getting a bit bored with the stripes already and I’m only halfway through, so I’ll just pick it up again when I get bored with something else!

Feb 20

embroidery.jpgJust got a great book from Amazon called Doodle Stitching and it’s inspired me to pick up thread and hoop again.

There’s something quite liberating about this book and it takes the stuffiness out of embroidery – nothing radical here really, the stitches are all the usual ones, but it’s nice for a change to see some loose application rather than the tight, intricate, old lady colours and detail usually associated with the craft. I’m thinking of combining some embroidery patches into a quilt for the spare room and kill two birds with one stone … hmm, let’s see if I get round to that one.

Mind you, I’m working in a lovely shop a couple of days a week now which, whilst doing very well, has some very quiet moments so I can crouch behind the counter and sew till my heart’s content. I’d be pretty dumb to waste that opportunity. You’d think?

Feb 12

insect_fabric.jpgI bought this scrap of fabric from ebay last year and loved it so much I was desperate for more. Unfortunately according to the seller it’s been discontinued, so when it came to making curtains for Warner Jnr I tried to recreate a similar effect through screen-printing. Didn’t quite come out as well as I’d hoped (might have been something to do with the fact that I was 8 months pregnant and could hardly bend over the fabric), so I’m still on the lookout for this stuff … if anyone reading this blog (I guess there’s a remote possibility) recognises it, drop me a line if you ever see it around!

Jan 11

GlittyKnittyKittyOkay I was wrong … craftivism is alive and well in the UK too, in the form of the GlittyKnittyKitty girls! Their credo is “We, the Knitted Terrorists, are committed to knittivism through the systematic and systemic use of knitted accessories, short rows and felt.”

They’ve also made me feel better (well, a bit anyway) about my crap handmade gifts … “by making, giving and receiving hand made things, you can say No to mass production. You can embrace individualism, and you can create something imbued with love.”  Cheers comrades, I’ll send you some handmade soap!

Jan 9

petrol-station.jpgThe International Fiber Collective has issued a call to arms to knitters, crocheters and sew-ers (erm … not the drainage type) to “come together from all over the world to express their concerns about their countries extreme dependency on oil for energy”.

They’re asking for contributions of 3 foot square fibre panels to cover abandoned gas stations (next deadline due March 15th 2008), expressing how we feel about our dependency and the growing crisis.

There are some nice examples of submitted entries on the site, including one panel knitted together using 120 plastic bags as yarn which is a pretty neat tie-in.

I was thinking of submitting a panel using a combination of sewed and knitted elements, just better make sure I hand-sew instead of using the machine – kind of defeats the object!

Get knitting …

Jan 7

Stitch for SenateI knew there was a connection between web & craft! The New York Times recently published an article called ‘Handmade 2.0′ about the new-wave DIY culture, taking the snobbery and commerciality out of design and putting it back into the hands of individual crafters. They start by quoting the statement of intent from buyhandmade.org website, saying that it echoes “the idealistic language of a tree-hugger activist group” but then goes onto say that its most prominent member is the virtual craft fair Etsy – a very much for-profit organisation.

The full article’s a bit lengthy so you can read a precis of it on Mike Press’ blog. Mike sums it up: “The article argues that the new handmade movement is an explicitly ideological movement that has profound implications for consumerism, and seeks to develop sustainable economies based on craft production.”

The Denver Post published a shorter, less analytical article last year called ‘Crafting Political Messages‘. Hey, there must be something in the air!

I saw a programme about John Ruskin the other night and bells started ringing here … I haven’t read too much of his theory, but he was writing at the time of the industrial revolution, when the creativity was being taken out of the hands of the craftsman and given to the corporations commissioning the art/architecture. His solution (along with other Victorian neo-gothic supporters such as William Morris, George Edmund Street, Pugin etc) was go to take elements of medieval architecture and give the power back to the individual craftsman.

The world has recently undergone another revolution, technical and commercial, and individuals are once again fighting the corporates to get control of the environment they live in, clothes they wear, gifts they give, furniture they sit on etc. This is a pretty stealthy revolution, but it feels like it’s gaining momentum. It doesn’t have the dire threat and warnings of the green movement but it comes from the heart.

For a couple of good examples of politicised craftspeople, try Lisa Anne Auerbach’s site StealThisSweater.com, Craftivism and Microrevolt.

Long live the craft revolution!

Jan 7

KnittaOh blimey, got carried away and lost in interweb tangents when I should have been doing other things … there’s so much great new wave craft stuff happening out there, I have problems sleeping at night thinking of all the things I could be making and doing, and trying to work out how I’m going to fit them all in.

Most of the stuff seems to be happening in America but I could be wrong here – maybe they’re just getting better press, or write about it more, or maybe us Brits just take one look at the plethora of cool and inspiring sites and think “why bother?” Whatever, they’re great, they’re needed and they’re fun.

Feel completely inspired by the Knitta group based in Houston – they call themselves a graffiti knitting crew and tag things like street lamps, public statues, handrails, gates etc with impractical hand-knit cozies. I love it – cooler than Banksy and less pious. They use street name aliases like PolyCotN, LoopDogg and The Knotorious N.I.T. (my personal fave). Wondering whether to start up an East Sussex chapter – will anyone else be interested? Should it matter? Might give it a go … get inspired here

Jan 1

SlippersNot a fan of the traditional slipper so I decided to make my own this year over the holidays, experimenting on a friend’s late Christmas gift first … actually that’s probably the wrong way round, I should test them on me first, but I ran out of time and hey, it’s the time for giving and there should be no time limit on that stuff (I use that excuse every year). Anyway, I’m about to start on a pair for me so perhaps I’ll finish them before I get to see my friend (ooh way too long-winded).

They’re so quick and easy to make, the only difficulty was getting slightly stiff fingers from trebling up the wool for the soles (I wanted them to be a bit sturdier) but it was worth it. I used a huge ball of Aran going cheap in the local wool shop and damn they’re cosy and warm, especially on bare toes. I think what makes them is the black sole, they seem a bit slicker than your average knitted slipper. I’m hooked, I think all my friends are going to get a pair next year, and I’m thinking of embellishing a bit by embroidering a red star or something festively appropriate on them.

I got the pattern from Sue’s Crochet & Knitting site – http://www.crochetandknitting.com/mocslipk.htm. She also gives us this more traditional shape crocheted slipper: http://www.crochetandknitting.com/mocslip.htm. Again, thanks to the black sole which is heavier on this version, they’ve got a look of a skate shoe about them which is quite cool!

Jan 1

Lucid hatI haven’t crocheted for some time … it doesn’t matter how many times I’ve heard that it’s back in fashion, I think I still view it as a bit of an old-fashioned art and I’m reminded of too many nasty old 70s waistcoat patterns and dodgy tea cosies to entertain it seriously (what a snob).

But I do love the Crochet Me site and its spirit and I particularly love this ‘Lucid’ hat pattern (complete with embarrassed look alongside the Lunatic football fan) so I might just give it a go … better re-learn how to crochet first …

Dec 27

Kiddy QuiltPatchwork quilting is a craft I’ve never really attempted but I keep coming back to have another look at it to see if there’s something there for me … I’m not so keen on the traditional American patchwork patterns and if I’m honest the patience/time factor has always put me off (I want everything finished NOW!). Then I stumbled across Betsey Telford’s Rocky Mountain quilts (bear with me) on Google the other day. She’s a quilter based in Maine, US – don’t be put off by the trad title and picture of lady (presumably Betsey herself) with suitably soppy dog. Her ‘Christmas’ designs are pretty inspiring with some lovely details and bold designs and have set me off thinking about a long-term project that I could keep buzzing along in the background when I get bored with my quick fixes.

I love this kiddy’s quilt – deceptively simple but bold and effective.

Check out the prices too – worth every penny I’m sure with the amount of time and care that goes into them, but it’s another element that makes me think it’s worth taking on the challenge …

Dec 16

lucaberrySo the little fella (Mr W Jnr) has finally settled into nursery 2 days a week and the lovely staff look a lot more relaxed when I turn up now, rather than the tense wary looks they seemed to wear when I arrived or left with a wailing ball of upset.

They’re having an Xmas dress-up day on Tuesday so I thought I’d be a good parent, a good craftswoman and a good recycler all in one and bodge something together in the minimum of time … et voila!

Trousers and hat started life as a hooded zip-up thingy … I cut off the arms and sewed them into trousers and the hat was made out of the back of the thingy with the bottom rib as the hat cuff (I know I know, it would’ve been easier to cut up the hood, but I tried that and cut it too small – he’s got such a big bonce!).

xmas_lucas2.jpgI knitted the cardi before he was born … it’s a bit small for him now but I managed to squeeze his podgy little form into it. He hasn’t worn it much really, but I knew it’d come in useful sooner or later!

P.S. I guess it was inevitable really but we pitched up at nursery all proud and excited … and no-one else had bothered, bar a small boy in what appeared to be a Ninja Turtle outfit. Oh well, Lucaberry loved his hat and wouldn’t take it off all day apparently so it was all worth it.

Dec 5

Someone bought me a great craft book recently with a recipe for soap. They made it sound so easy but I was a bit unsure about the caustic soda thing and bought a specialist soap book. My initial thoughts about soap making were dubious … seemed a bit pointless really, but then I got the bug and decided to make some for Christmas presents.

The first batch hatched a week ago … a goat’s milk mix with pine, rosewood and myrrh which smelt pretty good. Sadly my presentation was lacking … I used supermarket plastic containers as moulds which would have been fine if I’d been bothered to shave down the edges and make the slabs look a little prettier but I’ve just clean run out of time. Hey I’m so embarrassed I’ve not even posted a picture … I know it’s not a bad thing when things look rustic and home-made, but there’s a fine line and hell, these are meant to be presents after all. Still, I’ll wrap them up nicely with a descriptive tag and hopefully that’ll make up for it.

I’m looking at the small pile of home-made gifts I’ve built around me, and my initial idea about Christmas presents (it’s the time spent on the things rather than the money spent that people will appreciate) is beginning to pale. Can’t really argue with the principal, but I’m worried that people are going to look at this stuff and say “Nice idea, maybe shouldn’t have spent more time … or money? Or both …”

Nov 30

chair_fabric.jpgGod I hate that term, but I suppose it sums up the fabric I’ve bought to re-do la chaise (well it certainly has a shabby look about it anyway). Had a quick look in the antique shop down the road and they’re selling this wonderful hemp linen sacking (probably French) and got all excited until I saw astronomical price so I turned to my old friend, ebay, and found a kindly bearded and bespectacled Austrian gentleman (well that’s how I pictured him anyway) selling huge rolls of the stuff for about a quarter of the price.

Maybe it’s not vintage, maybe someone’s cottoned onto the fact that this stuff is fashionable now so they’re re-making it … whatever, it looks great and I love it.

I was showing the fabric to a friend and saying how cheap it was, then we realised what a ridiculous world we live in where we’re saying £9 a metre is cheap for old hemp sacking. My how those French farmers must be laughing … actually probably just shrugging and looking disdainful at the stupid English.

Nov 20

Mo’s bedSo we’ve got everything in place with the lounge now and we’re pretty pleased with the way it’s looking, but something was glaringly ugly and we couldn’t put our finger on it … oh yes, the big ugly black rubber dog’s bed! So we ordered a nice new wicker type basket and Big Mo the black lab seemed pretty happy with that, but I needed to make it more comfortable for her … good excuse for more felt cutting out anyway. I found some old material for the main part of the bed, and used the Loki Cola font for the letter cut-outs.

She seems pretty happy on it, although between you and me I don’t think she can read her own name – not very bright, dogs.

Nov 17

Rediscovered the joys of cutting out bits of felt and hand-sewing them onto stuff (er … maybe ‘joys’ is too strong a word but it’s quite satisfying, let’s just leave it there shall we?) – here’s little fella’s pillow cases. Bit disappointed with them actually – they were meant to look a bit more hand-sewn and naive, but they look more Laura Ashley than anything else (bleurgh).

You’d think I’d have better things to do with my time … wait, I have!

Nov 15

ChairSo I’ll start this blog with my current obsession … upholstering my chair.

Prompted by the good Mr W, I had a good look at what I wanted to do with myself earlier this year, post-baby ‘n’all, and I came up with the over-ambitious idea that I wanted to do a textiles degree, maybe go into restoration for museums and stately homes (ahem). Coming back down to earth and realising I needed to keep bringing in the bacon (plus keep some FOCUS in my life), I figured a more realistic aim would be an evening class of some sort.

Upholstery just fulfills a need for me … it somehow fits in quite neatly with my web coding head need for step by step mind numbing detail. Although it can be creative, it’s not wildly artistic and there are a set number of steps you need to go through to achieve an end result. I love working with the frame of the chair, all the effort (by someone else!) that went into carving it, bringing it back to life. The creative part sneaks into the construction – how do you want to shape it? What fabric to use? Do you use buttons? How are you going to finish the wood?

chair2.jpgDark wood furniture is out of fashion at the moment so you can pick things up relatively cheaply – criminal really, considering the amount of thought and work that went into these things in the first place. I picked up a couple of Edwardian chairs at the local auction house for £70 (including commission) and sold the smaller one for £25 to another upholstery newbie. It had some badly tacked-on pink velour covers (see above – nice huh?) over the original, green, incredibly faded chintzy fabric (see left). But it had a faded grandeur and a dignity about it that I loved.

I got all artsy and analytical about it at first, the fact that it was made pre-WW1 at a time when the Empire was fading but there was still a bit of time and money left to put some effort into things, before ideals got blown to bits along with a generation. I loved the carved back, the idea that this was, at the end of the day, a fairly common chair made out of cheap wood (as I found out pulling the tacks out and another splintered shard fell off), but a good deal of craftsmanship had gone into it.

Now I just love it as a good old chair that I’m bringing back to life … I’ll keep posting my progress, it’ll be fun to look back on when it’s finished!

Pattern Sales

Unfortunately I haven't been able to spend so much time on pattern sales recently and the site has suffered as a result, so sadly I've decided not to continue with selling vintage knitting patterns. read more ...

About Me

I've been knitting and crocheting since the age of seven, taught by my mum and nans who instilled in me a love of the patterns they knitted from originally. Over the years I developed a style of my own, adapting these wonderful designs for a modern fit and yarn choice. read more ...

Vintage Tips

If you're new to the vintage knitting pattern game, have a look at these useful tips first - they'll help you decide which wool to use and if the pattern needs adapting ...

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