Sunday, 27 November 2016

Small things: project bags

I've been listening to a lot of podcasts recently, both knitting-related ones on iTunes, and conceptual programmes via Radio 4. One of my favourites is The Gentle Knitter video podcast over on YouTube: Nicole has a charming aesthetic, and the whole podcast is both soothing and textural at once. I also enjoy Kammebornia, a vibrant Swedish video podcast; Pia's work is full of colour and patterns in the countryside - and very unlike my grey-black-white experience of Stockholm! I loved the fact that Pia and Nicole keep their knitting projects in baskets around their houses, including baskets inherited from their mothers and grandmothers. In the past, I've tended to keep my knitting projects in various plastic or calico shopping bags dotted around the place; but I decided that it was time for an upgrade.

My grandparents have severe hoarding tendencies, which occasionally proves useful: it didn't take very long to unearth this large wicker basket. After a bit of patching up with PVA wood glue, it was good to go; but I was worried about the rough canes inside snagging my yarn. I decided to sew up some azuma bukuro bags to sit inside. One soon followed another, and I now have three. 

I made the first bag (above centre, trimmed with navy) out of a scrap of heavy calico. The other two bags are sewn from normal calico used for toiles, and it's much softer: you really need the sizing (stiffening) left in the fabric to make this a successful bag. The pattern is a rectangle which can be divided into three equal squares, so it is rather long and narrow. I wanted to make the most of the scraps of fabric I had as possible, so I decided to forgo French seams and finish the raw edge with bias binding. I used remnants of commercial bias binding from my stash. This is the rather stiff stuff, uncomfortable on a garment but perfect for this use. I squared off the corners so that it sits open with a flat base.

I've always been drawn to calico as a material, enjoying the rawness of the cloth. These bags are the right blend of colourful and utilitarian, which is a needed contrast to the extreme colour and pattern elsewhere in my home.

The azuma bukuro bags are great for storage in the house, but I also made a more multi-functional project bag for when I'm out and about. I copied a small drawstring pouch that a friend had given me around 10 years ago after his trip to Japan. I use it all the time, especially for knitting on public transport, and it still looks pretty much as good as new. Here's a photo I took of it back in my Stockholm apartment in March:

Yes, the walls and surfaces really were all white; and all the furniture really was from Ikea. I'm so glad I'm back in colourful and chaotic London!

This is a simple drawstring pouch with a buttoned exterior pocket. I used scraps of this wonderful sketchy peacock feather cotton/viscose fabric from Goldhawk Road. Viscose is really too drapey for this kind of thing, so I lined it with robust brown silesia lining, leftover from a tailoring project. Finished with pretty grosgrain ribbon and a vintage button from my stash, this quick project allowed for just the right amount of thinking, as the lining is caught in to the seams (not bagged out). It is now stuffed full of sock yarn.

I'm happy to have spent the time pimping up my knitting: keeping works in progress stored in inviting and attractive bags makes me excited to get back into it. I try to stick to one project at a time, with the reasoning that I only have one pair of hands to use and I'd rather have more finished projects than incomplete ones. Having small incentives like using beautiful tools and equipment is a great way of keeping up motivation, especially when you're in the tricky stages of a project like knitting the second sock or final sleeve!

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Quiet winter knitting & #knit1000g

There's been a lack of finished items posted around here lately. During Slow Fashion October, I waxed lyrical (and at length) about mending and anti-consumerism; but really, there's only so many photos of darning socks and patched holes in T-shirts that I feel I can bore you with! I'm now three-quarters of the way through my mending pile, and I'm finding it rather uninspiring. Coupled with the dim winter light, I haven't been doing much sewing lately.

Instead, I've turned to knitting as the perfect antidote. I'm continuing with my Year of Socks project, which I'll write about fully in December. I'm nearly at the end of the sock yarns that I bought in Stockholm, so I'm sitting somewhere in the middle of itching to buy more yarn and wondering what to make next. Regular readers will know that I have rather negative feelings regarding my stock of craft materials (or 'stash') that has amassed during periods of being time-poor. Whilst not exactly time rich at the moment, I am currently rather poor space-wise and monetarily, so it's good to have the reminder to use what I have.

I recently discovered the #knit1000g hashtag on Instagram. The idea is to knit up a kilo's weight in yarn before buying any more. I'm cheating slightly, and am including projects that were already started when I discovered it; but all in all, I've committed to 4 pairs of socks and 2 sweaters before buying anything else. I haven't weighed this, but I'm pretty sure that it'll be over 1000g. Two pairs of socks use purpose-bought yarn from Stockholm; the other two are based around using up leftovers. Both sweaters use yarn that I acquired  8 or 9 years ago; I began projects, but they were unsuccessful for various reasons, and I've recently unravelled them. All patterns used are from my library or free downloads; and any additional projects made from my stash will be bonus, not a substitute.

#Knit1000g is a rather quiet initiative: it is not a knitalong, there are no prizes, nor any Internet celebrities endorsing it. However, I think it's a really valuable way to remind ourselves of the beautiful materials we have at the ready, before just excitedly ordering more yarn for the next make. I'm still forcing myself to reach for my knitting when I find myself endlessly scrolling on social media; and I've really sped along on the socks since then! 

Saturday, 12 November 2016

5 tips for designing your first quilt

When I was planning my first quilt, I felt overwhelmed by the vast array of patterns, techniques, styles, blocks, and trends out there in the big world of quilting. I call myself a maker, not a quilter, so I've often felt like a bit of an outsider to this craft. But I'm a very creative person, so I've never felt the desire to use a quilting pattern or kit, or to copy a design exactly. I prefer to design my own. When sketching and pondering my second quilt, I realised that I had picked up a few tips that could be useful to other quilting beginners. I hope that this makes designing your quilt fun and inspiring!

First off, click here to see my Inspiring Quilts board on Pinterest, where you can get an idea of my design inspiration.

Here are 5 tips for designing your first quilt...

1.  Pick a simple, repetitive design
If it's your first time quilting, don't push yourself too hard at the first hurdle. Simple blocks like log cabin or half-square triangles invite endless options for designing.

2. Keep to a strict colour scheme
Using a limited colour scheme allows you to be bold with your shapes and lines. Many quilt patterns divide up fabrics into 'light' and 'dark' values, but I'd go further and consider colour very carefully. You don't want all the hard work of the quilt piecing to get lost amidst the excitement of too many different shades. 

3. Enjoy patterns - but choose plain fabrics too
Quilting has some of the most exciting fabrics around! It's so easy to get carried away with all the prints and patterns available; I know I did. But mixing in plain fabrics in the same hues, or contrasting ones, will give clarity to your design lines- and in fact will make the patterns pop.

4. Use natural fibres and fabrics
These will wash and wear better; are breathable and absorbent; and will age beautifully. Most quilting fabric is cotton, but I've successfully mixed in linen too. I also don't restrict myself to quilting fabric, and often use leftovers from dressmaking projects as well as a great array of second-hand textiles. Napkins, tablecloths, old bedsheets (cut from the edges) and men's fine cotton shirts are all good options.

5. Challenge yourself, and enjoy it!
Making a quilt is an involved project, requiring long-term commitment. I often feel that big projects are an exercise in patience and letting go: embracing any flaws that emerge, and moving forward in your practice. Your first quilt is probably not going to be perfect, since the first anything is rarely perfect. But you'll have lots of fun trying out this craft, and you'll probably be a better maker for it!

What's your favourite quilt block? What did you think about when you were designing your first quilt?

Saturday, 5 November 2016

Quilting from scraps

I've recently started making another quilt, this time a log cabin pattern. I've given myself the challenge of piecing both the top and the underside from scrap fabrics, using as much cotton and linen as I could find. I've surprised myself by the huge pile of scraps and unwanted textiles that I managed to gather just by rootling around in a few cupboards at my grandmother's place. Admittedly, her hoarding tendencies are infamous, and I unearthed all manner of things. As well as using leftovers from my own quilting and sewing projects, I'm mixing in many vintage textiles, cutting up handkerchiefs, napkins, old bedsheets and some clothing that I pulled out from a charity shop bag. I'm pleased with the surface texture gained by mixing cotton and linen fabrics.

I've given myself permission to purchase no more than 1m of fabric specifically for the quilt, which could be in fat quarters. I'm not sure if I will be able to stretch this out to make the binding and backing, nor am I sure if I will be able to piece my leftover remnants of quilt wadding. But I really want to push myself to make something that looks aesthetically interesting, with a considered design, from what essentially are waste materials and unwanted textiles.

Learning my lessons from my first quilt, I'm using a minimum of 50% plain, unpatterned fabrics in order to make a cleaner-looking design. I've used more solids (or semi-solids) within the coloured central diamond shapes in order to make it stronger. But the white backgrounds are actually a shifting mix of creams, ivories, and only a few bright whites. I think that this softens it slightly.

I haven't yet decided on how I'm going to piece the back. It might just end up being a haphazard collection of quadrilaterals. Whilst I'm enjoying sewing the log cabin blocks, I have a feeling that by the end of them I'll have run out of steam somewhat. I also haven't quite decided how large it will be! I was initially planning on a lap quilt, but then I found loads more fabric lurking at the bottom of cupboards, and realised I could go bigger.

This is definitely a long-term project: every few weeks, I spend a whole evening cutting out strips and sewing them up into blocks. Then I put it aside and forget about it while I do more important things. At this rate, it'll be another 2 years until it's made, just like my first quilt! I'm never going to be a quilt artisan or prize-winner, but it's an enjoyable process, and I'm really happy to be turning waste materials into something useful.

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

A recent stash sort-out...

I've recently been trying very hard to seriously re-organise my sewing and knitting supplies, as a large corner of my room currently looks like a landslide. It's a bit horrific. I started by pulling out cuts of cotton and viscose fabrics and storing them in this suitcase. I have a separate large storage box for wools, silks, linings and interlinings; all trimmings and haberdashery are separate too. In all seriousness, in an ideal world I would like my entire fabric stash to fit into this suitcase, with a separate bag for scratchy tailoring canvases and bulky wadding.

Having a stash makes me feel nervous because it is a whole world of unspent opportunities, pointing to wasted time. There's the monetary factor too, although I have very little disposable income and, believe it or not, purchase fabric very carefully. A fair amount of what I have was donated by de-cluttering family members or leftover from costume jobs that I've done. I've tried to put a check on that last one, but it's hard because you don't want to put large yet odd remnants of special and expensive fabrics into the bin. I currently have a piece of gorgeous silk chiffon 4m long by only 0.5m that I have no idea what to do with. Do you?

Acquiring a stash is easy, because it's really fun to go to wonderful shops and dream up the possibilities on offer. You can buy far quicker than you could ever make. The second problem is waste, because I don't think that many of us really like the idea of cloth sitting in the landfill for hundreds of years. I read through the entire Stash Less series on The Craft Sessions, and it gave me loads of food for thought. After an insomniac night of reading, I started unravelling old sweaters I don't wear because they didn't really work. I now have an additional 4 sweaters worth of yarn in my stash!

Having so much ends up being counter-productive, as I feel guilty every time I look at all the beautiful materials that I have done nothing with. Making becomes a chore, an act of de-cluttering, instead of a stimulating and enjoyable hobby. I don't want this to happen, but it's surprisingly difficult to lift this strong feeling of guilt and regret. One small change I've recently implemented was to pick up my knitting needles instead of my phone, and whilst Instagram has been neglected, I've made most of a cardigan. At the end of the day it seems like a pretty great trade-off.

What are your feelings on having a stash? Do you feel strange and sad about it like me, or is it something you take pleasure in?