Category: Knitting

Aug 13

#heartstrings

 

June’s events here in the UK made pretty tough going. In our dejection at the state of the world, the regulars at the Big Mend came up with an idea: #heartstrings. We wanted to do something positive – something to celebrate connection, unity and diversity in our city – rather than sowing more division or wallowing in despair. We needed to find a way to take heart.

 

#heartstrings

The term ‘heartstrings’ originally described the nerves or tendons formerly believed to brace and sustain the heart. But it also refers to our deepest feelings of love or compassion. And ‘to hearten’ is to make more cheerful or confident.

 

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All senses held resonance for us. We wanted to join Ruth Singer in her healing idea of yarn-bombing racially or culturally sensitive parts of her locality with fabricated hearts – to craft for solidarity, as she has coined it, inspired in turn by the hashtag #randomactsofequality on social media.

Then we heard about the safety-pin campaign, a tacit way of displaying in public that one is ‘safe’ (tolerant and supportive) to anyone who might be feeling vulnerable or threatened. So, let’s join them together, we thought: solidarity, unity, community demonstrated in crafted hearts that are linked shoulder to shoulder. It all seemed to tie together.

 

heartstrings-alison-bedecking-the-hanging-tree-in-abbey-green-bath-july-2016

 

 

 

Embracing the city

So, in July we started making up #heartstrings at Protestival in Green Park Station, then had a session at the One Two Five Gallery in Abbey Green (see above). As our #heartstrings began to grow, we felt that we were metaphorically hugging our city with hearts – you can see Alison above, literally yarn-embracing ‘the hanging tree’ in Abbey Green – a tree with a troubling history as the location of the city’s public executions. 

 

Join us!

We’ve found that people really like the #heartstrings idea and want to get involved. Can you help?

We’ll really need your heartsindividually made or linked into strings. Hearts can be crafted in any material and method, any colour, embellished however you like. Just aim for them to be about the size of the palm of your hand, if possible. Follow any crochet or knitting pattern you like. You can simply cut hearts out of felt or fabric – a cookie cutter is a useful aid, if you don’t want to draw freehand. And please personalise your hearts with words, slogans, objects – whatever you like. We’d also welcome donated materials or safety pins. 

 

When and where?

We’ll be making #heartstrings at all the Big Mend mending sewcials over the coming year, and will arrange for periodic #heartstrings yarn-bombing of local landmarks, with a big city-crossing link-up on the first anniversary of the referendum in the third week June 2017But we’ll need your help to eventually cross the entire city of Bath with little linked #heartstrings!

 

If you’re in Bath, please come to two August events at which we’ll be creating heartstrings:

One Two Five Gallery‘s first birthday party in Abbey Green, Bath on Sunday 14th August from 3-5pm 

A Yarn Story in Walcot, Bath on Thursday 18th August from 7pm

 

By post 

You can drop off or post your hearts, strings or material donations to the Museum of Bath at Work at Camden Works, Julian Road, Bath, BA1 2RH or the One Two Five Gallery in Abbey Green, or A Yarn Story on Walcot. Please attach a label to your hearts telling us who you are and preferably with a contact name/number/email. Thank you.

 

On social media…

If you’re on social media, feel free to share your own images/selfies with your hearts or #heartstrings, wherever you happen to be in Bath or beyond.

 

 

 

 

 

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Nov 09

Kaffe Fassett at the American Museum

 

My blog is still on life support, but I couldn’t resist popping back to take you on a brief tour of the Kaffe Fassett exhibition at the American Museum, Claverton Manor, Bath.

I squeaked in at the tail end of October, just before it closed. Perhaps it’s cruel of me to tantalise you with images of the King of Colour’s show that you now have no hope of seeing, but maybe you’re far away and had no chance to visit anyway. Or maybe you got there and are happy to be reminded of your grand day out. Whatever the case, I hope you can enjoy these images. Did you catch the exhibition? What was your favourite area or thing on display?

This huge tree hung with pompoms and lampshades was really stunning. It was a magnet for small children: delightedly scurrying about beneath it, batting at the yarn balls.

Bececked tree at the Kaffe expo, the American Museum, Claverton Manor, Bath

Bedecked tree at the Kaffe expo, the American Museum, Claverton Manor, Bath

 

The pictures don’t do the original concept justice as the fabric on the shades had faded considerably over the 6 months of the exhibition. You have to wonder how long it took the team to set this up last March; I assume it was a cherry-picker job. It makes me want to do something similar (though on a much smaller scale) with this year’s Christmas tree, possibly even decorating a tree outside, for a change. How about you?

Pompoms and lampshades

Pompoms and lampshades

 

Here was a rendition of Kaffe’s studio, complete with painting area on the left.

Studio area

Kaffe’s studio

 

A blazing yellow area.

Cushions, cats and cardigans

Cushions, cats and cardigans

 

A tactile section.

Please touch! I appreciated this.

Please touch! I really appreciated this touch.

 

Glorious needlepoint.

Kaffe cabinet

Needlepoint cushions

 

Plenty of vegetation.

Kaffe veg

Vegetables and flowers

 

Some nods to items in the museum’s collection.

Early American portraits

Early American portraits

 

Beautiful neutrals.

Tumbling blocks

Tumbling blocks

 

And a wall of Kaffe quips and wisdom.

Kaffe quotation wall

Kaffe quotation wall

 

Meanwhile, back in the main house (Claverton Manor proper, rather than the modern exhibition building), there were a few Kaffe touches on display for the determined visitor. It was fascinating to see the spreads and colourway varieties for a selection of printed textile patterns – apologies for the quality of the image.

 

Design sheet

Design sheet

 

But I was really smitten by these quiet inked line drawings of the museum’s room sets. Kaffe is an old friend to the museum and worked these in the 1960s, when the museum was brand new. Astonishingly little has changed in those room sets (which illustrate America from its early colonial days). As a Penn Dutch girl by ancestry, I loved his rendition of the decorative tinware, particuarly that perky coffee pot. And how fascinatingly un-Kaffe is this absence of colour? – not to mention un-Penn Dutch.

 

Kaffe's early work for the American Work, 1960s.

Kaffe’s early work for the American Work, 1960s.

 

In the museum’s Penn Dutch room, the mass of highly decorated stuff can be riotously hard to swallow, but the beautiful folk-art lines of those plain tinware cookie cutters are delicious in their simplicity and always draw me back.

 

Penn Dutch artefacts from the American Museum

Penn Dutch artefacts from the American Museum

 

And then home

And then home

 

That’s all for now, though I’m hoping to be back here more regularly soon. Meanwhile, I’m now signed  up on Instagram and find that an interesting place to post. Please join me. 

 

 

 

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Mar 08

Briswool

 

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Briswool’s version of Totterdown

 

The City of Briswool Project‘s improbable aim is to produce a giant model of the city of Bristol – in yarn. As a concept, it’s about as mad as a bag of chickens. Which is why I had to get involved.

For me, the lunacy-infused ingenuity of this project typifies Bristol at its very best. I have to declare an interest here as Bristol is my home city: I lived there from the late ’60s to the late ’80s. The place has a distinctive non-conformist confidence which I still find refreshing when I go back home for a visit. Somehow this attitude crystallises around an unconventional approach to materials. Back in the era of wooden sailing ships, Brunel launched the SS Great Britain, his crazy iron steam ship, from Bristol. Aardman founded its animated plastic empire there in the 1970s. And Banksy used the very fabric of the city’s buildings as his canvas in the ’90s and noughties. Given such a heritage, maybe it was inevitable that Bristol would eventually be recreated from leftover balls of yarn.

Over the last few months Bristol’s landmarks, large and small, have been materialising in knitted, crocheted and needle-felted forms, created by an army of volunteers. The vast majority of materials have been donated: all has been done on an absolute shoe-string budget, fuelled largely (as so many of the very best things are) by the unquenchable enthusiasm of its originator.

That originator is Vicky Harrison, of Paper Village Arts in Bedminster on the south side of the city. True to her positioning of Paper Village as a creative community hub, she wanted Briswool to be a genuine grass-roots project, with people offering to recreate landmarks that have held some personal resonance for them. And Bristolians have been coming forward in droves to do just that. Someone’s made a model of the Matthew, the ’90s replica of the craft in which John Cabot sailed from Bristol to ‘discover’ Newfoundland in the fifteenth century. There’s a Concorde, the supersonic plane which was famously developed in Bristol. And, of course, there’s an SS Great Britain. There are harbour boats, and bikes, and zoo animals. Remarkably, there have been little or no duplicates. The scale is a little elastic, but that gives the project even more charm.

I joined Vicky in late January at the M-Shed with a group of volunteers intent on knitting a landmark section of the city called Totterdown where rows of brightly painted terraces line a ridge on the city’s skyline. I didn’t have a direct connection to those houses, but everyone from Bristol knows them by sight. Brilliantly, one of the people attending had lived in one. We were given a knitting pattern, some yarn, and quickly set about casting on, fuelled by chocolate fingers. I’m not a natural knitter, but soon got to grips with the simple pattern devised by Paper Village’s knitting tutor, Elise Fraser.

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My purple house takes shape

 

I love creating in a group environment, whether I’m the teacher or a teach-ee. In fact, I think it’s one of life’s profound pleasures. I’m sure we have always gathered to share the process of making (or mending), from our very earliest social days when we huddled around the cave fire joining pelts with gut-threaded thorn needles. The conversations (which are approached obliquely because you’re doing something else, after all) are often surprising frank and illuminating. And, whatever your level of skill, you always learn something new technically, if not from the teacher then from someone else in the group – for me this was was casting on in cable, which the knitter across from me demonstrated (though too late for my first house as I’d already cast on in my old way). I also got to grips with mattress stitch, at long last. I’d like to thank Vicky, Elise and my fellow house-knitters for all their helpfulness, generosity and sociability, and for creating a really enjoyable afternoon.

 

IMG_7191

Ridged roof

 

Alas, the two hours of the workshop weren’t long enough for me to finish my house so I had to complete it at home. Here it is. Now I just have to mail it back to Vicky, along with a pink house I’ve made since, plus a little greenery.

 

IMG_7195

Finished house

 

The pattern ended at the basic house structure, so it was up to us to complete the smaller features of the house as we saw fit. As a nod to my enthusiasm for mending, I worked mine in darning wool in Swiss darning (replica stitch). The thin black yarn didn’t cover the DK stitches fully on the windows, but I think that gives the impression of them glinting in the daylight. Maybe.

 

IMG_7194

Still plenty of yarn left for a newbuild next door

 

If you’d like to contribute your own little woolly piece of Bristol to Briswool, there’s still time  to get involved. But hurry! Everything has to be complete and ready to assemble by the end of month. I gather that 6 cm green squares will come in handy at this point. There are making events through the rest of March. Or you can contact Vicky at Paper Village Arts (the number’s below) who’ll be very happy to hear from you. I wonder if anyone’s made  a little version of Bristol’s Olympic champion Jen Jones yet, complete with snowboard and bronze medal…?

IMG_6933

Briswool’s Totterdown – WIP

 

Briswool will be on display at Paper Village Arts from April, and then at the M-Shed later in the year. 

Paper Village Arts is at 200 North Street, Bedminster, BS3 1JF, telephone 0117 963 9452. They hold a drop-in knitting session every Wednesday afternoon, 2-5pm. You can keep track of workshops, classes and community activities via Paper Village’s Facebook page

 

 

 

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Jan 03

Christmas leftovers

 

How to knit your own dishcloths

 

Christmas is over, bar a few lords a-leaping and the waft of pine needles from the vacuum cleaner. I usually hang on until 5th January, just ahead of Twelfth Night, before taking down the decs, but this year I’m itching to move on and put the last vestiges of 2013 well behind me. My goodness, I even feel drawn to a spot of spring cleaning! Which is why I started eyeing my large cone of Christmas baker’s twine* with intent. Here’s an idea, I thought. Why not try creating baker’s twine dishcloths?

IMG_6662

Knitting with Christmas leftovers

 

Perhaps not the obvious conclusion to draw, but if necessity’s the mother of invention then post-Christmas boredom is her efficient midwife.

In case it’s new to you, baker’s twine is a twirling barber’s pole of a string which has become incredibly popular in recent years, thanks largely to the efforts of Martha Stewart and others. It gets used for anything, it seems, except its original purpose of crisply tying up boxes of baked goods. The classic red-and-white combination has a jaunty Scandinavian cheerfulness, but you’ll find the string in an array of other colours now too. Hard to beat it for jazzing up simple brown paper or white tissue gift-wrapping.

I bought in a huge reel from the US a few years ago, but when it arrived I was disappointed to discover that it was  a lot thinner than I’d hoped. A good baker’s twine needs to be a certain bulk and preferably all cotton. This was puny and an inferior poly-cotton blend – not what I’d hoped for at all. So, I had a lot of thin twine on my hands. What to do with it? Well, I’ve wrapped endless gifts and parcels with it, and tied up lots of packets of cookies. But this was a big reel and I’d barely made a dent. I needed a bigger project.

IMG_6661

Red and white twine makes a cheery Scandi-style dishcloth

 

Sitting down this New Year’s Eve, I cast on 40 stitches on size 3.5 mm needles, started knitting and just kept going. Turns out that working baker’s twine in garter stitch is relatively easy, and I really like the marled effect.

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Knitting with baker’s twine

 

You can, of course try other materials to make dishcloths: linen yarn, or dedicated dishcloth cotton yarn (yes, it really does exist) which looks great in ecru or white with occasional alternating stripes of red or other contrast colour in the same weight/fibre yarn, as shown here in this charming Purl Bee tutorial. But you don’t really need a tutorial: just cast on a few dozen stitches as the mood takes you. Knit until you have a square. Or a rectangle. Or knit a square from corner to corner, increasing then decreasing. Dishcloths are a really great vehicle for sampling new stitches: border details can be included, and all kinds of fancy stitches will add a functional texture:  But plain old garter stitch is all you need if you’re working with a patterned yarn such as baker’s twine. And, whatever the stitch, dishcloths make very portable projects to carry around with you for that inevitable idle moment. I’m admittedly not much of a knitter, but even I find 5 minutes of knitting surprisingly relaxing.

IMG_6714

Baker’s twine dishcloth

 

I tested this square in the washing-up bowl to see if my Christmas occupation-creation scheme really had any point, other than reducing my towering twine-mountain and proving a mindlessly relaxing pass-time. Could laboriously knitting these babies really offer any noticeable improvement on the shop-bought machine-produced-dishcloth experience?

IMG_6715

Putting it through its paces

 

Well, the answer’s yes. It was definitely pleasanter scrubbing my plates with this highly textured, nubbly, stretchy textile. And, as a considerable quantity of one’s day is taken up with mundane domestic tasks such as washing up, why not make this inevitable chore as pleasurable as possible? My heart gladdens a little just seeing this dishcloth hanging up to dry.

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Handmade dishcloths drying

 

It stands to reason that if you knit your own dishcloths, you’ll be motivated to take slightly better care of them, hanging them up to dry rather than maybe leaving them to their fate in the washing-up water. Other than that, you can just throw these in the washing machine when it’s time to hotwash your tea-towels. I have a dedicated cloth saucepan in which I boil out dishcloths with a certain brand of ecologically sound oxygen bleach, though I remember my mother-in-law using just a spoonful of salt.

I’ll certainly be looking at string and twine a little differently from now on, sizing up its dishcloth potential. By the way, the other cloth there on my drying rack is knitted with much thicker cotton dishcloth yarn (a DK to the red-and-white twine’s 4-ply) edged in a chunkier blue/aqua baker’s twine which came from an Anthropologie sale a couple of years ago. It makes a much thicker, spongier textile and is a lot quicker to work up into a good-sized cloth.

 

Q. Do you already knit your own dishcloths? If so, I’d love to hear how and with what. If not, would you be tempted now to give it a go? Have a healthy, happy and well scrubbed 2014!

 

 

*baker’s twine, or should it be bakers twine? I am never quite sure. Today I’ve gone with an instinctive possessive apostrophe. Just a hunch. But if you know otherwise, please leave me a comment to set me straight. Thanks.

 

 

 

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