Tagged: cat

May 17

Sock it to me

The humble sock is a wonderful thing. I’ve appreciated wearing socks for about as long as I’ve stood on my own two feet, but I’ve only just fallen in love with them as a creative medium. This is all thanks to Imogen Harvey-Lewis who was leading a sock creature workshop last weekend at the Stroud International Textiles festival. I still have trouble keeping a straight face when mentioning SIT, because ‘Stroud’ and ‘International’ are strange words to put together, at least for the average English ear. However, Stroud has every reason to be proud of its awesome textile heritage (Cotswold wool), and the festival, now in its 6th year, is garnering a formidable reputation amongst those who know about cloth, fabric and thread-based things.

Sock owls

Imogen Harvey-Lewis's Soon owls

Imogen is an illustrator and one-time stained glass restorer (she worked on some of the windows in Gloucester Cathedral) and her strong sense of line informs the way she approaches sewing. She started making sock creatures a couple of years ago inspired by this enchanting book. Daunted by the ‘correct’ sewist approach to creating 3-D forms, Imogen simply began to draw her creatures, first with a soft pencil, then with a needle (either by hand or using an old treadle  Singer sewing machine) straight onto the sock. She has figured out her own technique by trial and error and the resulting method is inventive, quirky and really refreshing.

Sock cat

Soon sock cat by Imogen Harvey-Lewis

Sewing just as she draws, Imogen’s dogs, elephants and cats, for example, have four legs all in a line rather than two one side, two the other in a more anatomically correct style. What is helpful about working with a knitted sock in this way is that, once stuffed, it yields and stretches – sometimes a little unpredictably but always adding  curves and interest to the simply drawn flat figure.

Soon-making workshop

Soons in progress

Imogen has given her quirky sock creatures the generic name ‘Soon’.  She can’t really explain why: it was just a name that appealed. I suggested to her that they were fairly quick to make, so ‘soon’ was fitting for that reason. It also has a slightly wistful quality which suits (I almost wrote ‘soots’) these characterful creations so well. Many of them do look as if they need to be loved. And soon.

Our workshop group began by making a simple owl from part of a toddler-sized sock. With this we mastered the basics of managing the sewing tension on a stretchy sock, remembering to leave a little hole to turn and stuff our owls (guess which one of the class forgot this [blushes]), filling our creature with beaded pellets (making sure not to over-fill our endlessly stretching socks), selecting and sewing on eyes (4-holed buttons give a wide-awake look, 2-holed ones a sleepy one), and embroidering a beak. This last element was possibly the hardest of all as not pulling the beak too tight was unexpectedly tricky.

A handful of sock owls

Imogen's owls (grey), workshoppers' owls (blue)

Then we moved on to more complex creatures, such as rabbits, cats, dogs and elephants.

Sock dogs

Imogen's mongrel Soon Woofs

We’d been advised to bring along old socks, which I had plenty of. However, once at the workshop I soon (Soon!) realised that it would be a waste of effort to upcycle a really tatty old sock into one of these delightful creatures. Also, the designs often make full feature use of the heel and toe gusseting, so an old sock thinning in the usual areas wouldn’t work well at all. Imogen looks out for interesting new socks everywhere (supermarkets etc), and only uses new for the Soons she sells to the public as she thinks (rightly, I’d guess) that people will not want to buy used ones. Soons made for family members are another thing.

Never one to pass up an upcycling opportunity, I managed to make a Soon dog from one of  my old socks, though frankly I feel he’s a bit of a rough mutt next to Imogen’s fresh-from-the-packet versions (he’s proving camera-shy, by the way – I haven’t managed to take a decent picture of him yet). This leaves me with a bit of an upcycler’s dilemma as I’d really rather not go buying new socks to turn into Soons. Principles can be so inconvenient. Still, it’s nice to add another method to the growing battery of Scrapiana upcycling skills: I could upcycle an old sock into a sock creature even if I choose not to.

Imogen sells her enchanting Soons at Stroud Farmers’ Market plus via a few select outlets in Bristol etc and is currently exploring options to sell online. You can contact Imogen here for further information. Meanwhile, the Stroud International Textiles festival continues until Sunday 22nd May.

Sock elephant

Elephant Soon

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Nov 23

Scrap kitty

All this talk of first sewing-machine experiences reminded me that jeans renovation featured prominently in mine. A previous incarnation of the skinny jean, c.1980, required them to look as though they had been sprayed on. I couldn’t afford to buy them (or maybe they weren’t even available to buy) so had to adapt what I had (straights? I think we’d already abandoned flares). As far as denim was concerned, this was the pre-Lycra era, making skin-tight pretty difficult to achieve. But with plenty of pinning, trimming, sewing and endless trying on (and peeling off), the more grimly determined teens among us got there. How sad that I can find no photographic evidence!

Well, I’m more likely to deconstruct jeans completely nowadays, and turn them into something else. Or sew on the odd knee-patch for Little Scraplet, who can hole a trouser in just one wearing. Little Scraplet’s friend’s 11th birthday party (actually back in September, but forgive me for being slow to post about it) sent me to my scrap bag looking for a suitable gift idea.

I leafed through Pip Lincolne‘s charmingly fun retro-styled Meet Me At Mike’s book and found a sweet kitty pattern. Looked good to me, and Little Scraplet approved. This is a really appealing project book, but I think there may have been a problem with the pattern-drafting (seam allowances omitted?) as I thought my kitty emerged looking like the one in the book after a celebrity crash-diet. And the instructions didn’t tell me to cut out the correct number of pieces (forgetting you need two for each arm and leg). Getting caught in an instruction-/pattern- failure ambush tends to puncture the ‘can-do’ approach just a little. I’m sufficiently experienced to read around the instructions and figure out how to fix it without the book’s help, but I thought it would be a pity for someone attempting a first project (the book’s real audience, I would guess) to be derailed so soon. End of rant. Well, it all came out OK in the end, though my kitty was a bit skinnier than she might have been.

Scrap kitty

Scrap kitty tries to relax

The rest of her is scrap or thrifted. Her face is cut from a felted 2nd-hand sweater. She’s stuffed with a 2nd-hand bag of unused toy stuffing (the stuff I find in cupboards!)  plus some lavender. She can’t be washed but smells s-o-o-o relaxing.

Scrap kitty face

Scrap cat close-up

I was slightly disappointed by her final mouth, realising that I liked the effect of the pin that had been holding her nose on during construction (vertical line and dot) and I should’ve tried to emulate that. Nevermind. Maybe another time.

Feedback on kitty was good. Sort of. Recipient’s older sister had purloined it as her mascot (she was taking exams), and was refusing to relinquish it. The mother cooed and said I should be making and selling them. Well, obviously I can’t ‘cos it’s not my pattern, but it’s a nice thought.

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