Tagged: knitting

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. 





Mar 08




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.


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.



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.



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.



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…?


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





Oct 08

The Napkin Project exhibition

Last month I attended The Napkin Project‘s exhibition of contributions for Saffron Gardens, a new dementia care facility in Bristol. The project embraced the theme of ‘home’, with volunteers across the UK embroidering napkins to reflect what the word means to them. The napkins are destined to be used by people with dementia, hopefully stimulating memories, inspiring interaction, etc. This comment from a contributor helps to explain the impetus behind the project:

My father has dementia and I have often noticed the urge for him, and other residents in the care home, to play with the edges of things – be it fabric or a table edge. In fact, I often leave a cotton hankie (brightly patterned Liberty squares) for him when my visit is over – a sort of textile reminder that I’ve been there. Something physical for him to hold.

It was touching to see the 120 napkins hanging, slightly mournfully, en masse. Their brown-paper hanging tags carried words like ‘comfort’, ‘security’, ‘safety’ and ‘love’. 250 napkins had been sent out to embroiderers of all ages, levels and abilities (no-one was excluded), and the organisers, Willis Newson, were gratified by the relatively high response rate, considering the heavy investment of effort and time required to complete one in the three-month timeframe.



I had stitched one of the napkins, partly inspired to contribute by my own experiences of having close relatives in care. And it wasn’t surprising to me that affecting human stories hover behind many of the napkins. A fellow napkin-embellisher, viewing napkins beside me at the expo, revealed that she had just lost her own mother to dementia a few weeks before; in fact, she had hand-delivered her napkin to the organisers while visiting Bristol for her mother’s funeral. Amidst that turmoil, she valued the experience of embroidering her napkin, she said. It gave her something positive to focus her grieving energies on.

So, what did ‘home’ mean to the contributors? Here are some of the common themes.




Teapots, teacups and cakes.





Plates, of course, to put them on.

Blue plate napkin

A good read.



Gardens, trees and flowers.

Napkin for The Napkin Project




Animals, birds and pets.





Julia Laing’s contribution


Creative spaces where much making is done.





And places we have literally created ourselves.

Paintbrush napkin

Home is the place I have made


A place of warmth.




Home as a place we feel safe, where we are free to be ourselves. Ironically, it may be far from our actual home, under canvas, or under no roof at all.


The Napkin Project has just uploaded an entire set of (much better) pictures of all napkins received to date over on Flickr, so do go and have a browse.

I was so pleased to be involved in this very practical creative project. It has been thought-provoking. In seeking to define an intangible – what creates a real home rather than just a place where we happen to be existing – it hints at crucial ingredients of care. I hope that it succeeds in providing amusement, comfort and stimulation to the residents of Saffron Gardens. And perhaps it will establish, in its small way, a new paradigm for working with dementia patients?

It was clear to me, attending the exhibition, that it has already provided comfort to a lot of relatives of people with dementia. So many contributed, and this appears to have been a positive means of channelling grief, sadness and loss. There’s so much intertwined in the fibres of those napkins.

If you haven’t completed your napkin yet, don’t worry. Finish it in your own time and return it because it will still be very happily and gratefully received, the organisers assure me. Most importantly, it will be used and handled by real people with dementia. If you would like to stitch a napkin but didn’t apply, Willis Newson allowed me to take a couple in the cream shade to give out,  so do get in touch – especially if you can pick one up from Bath. Thank you.


Feb 15

Sea Sew


I found this delightful little music video while searching for sewing-related films. Turns out I Don’t Know isn’t about sewing at all. The song captures perfectly all the delicious little unknowns you experience when falling in love (apologies Valentine’s Day phobics – just when you thought it was safe to venture out again!). As a bonus there is a pair of scissors at the beginning and some energetic snippety-snipping of paper throughout. Like.

I hadn’t heard of the singer before, though it’s three years since the very charming Lisa Hannigan‘s solo album Sea Sew was released.  Somehow I managed to miss her appearances on Jools Holland, Steven Colbert,  the Mercury Awards, and also her vocals on Greys Anatomy. But, hey! Better late than never!

There’s a Daily Telegraph interview with Lisa over here. It begins: ‘ She knits the artwork for her album covers with her mother, and plays broken-down, wheezy old instruments. Her blog posts contain not bitter tirades, but cake-making recipes.’  What’s not to love?

Fabulously unstarry, she says that her genre is best described as  ‘plinky plonk rock’. More of her very watchable videos over here. Am I really the only person in the universe who hadn’t heard of Lisa before today? Do let me know if you like her too and feel free to point me in the direction of any favourite songs.



Apr 11


Last week I received an offer I couldn’t refuse: a free ticket for Wonderwool Wales at the Royal Welsh Showground, Builth Wells. Celebrating almost everything associated with a sheep and its clothing, Wonderwool looked like a golden opportunity for me to turn roving reporter*. Everything was included, even transport. So, bright and early Saturday morning I set off on the coach carrying much of the Wiltshire Guild of Weavers, Spinners & Dyers.

And what a day we had! Longish outward journey [meh], the final third spent hurtling at improbable speed down twisting, terrifyingly narrow Welsh lanes [double meh]. I should really have known by the name that all the roads that lead you there are winding. But it was a tonic to see Wales in the radiant spring sunshine since I usually visit in near-horizontal rain. This was just like the tourist brochures: white cottages edged in black nestling at the foot of brooding mountains, quaint stone bridges (which the coach only just managed to negotiate) arching over sparkling stone-strewn river beds, and plenty of nodding daffodils. It was a relief to finally arrive  mid-morning, with fatigue and slight travel-sickness rapidly subsiding and excitement kicking in.

Wonderwool vista

Half barn, half textile show

The venue was no-frills but spacious. And, yes, true to its billing, the whole place was woolly, even the  information point.

Information Desk

Woolly thinkers welcome

I soaked it all up: stall upon stall of fleeces,  in varying stages of refinement; big bags of roving; carding equipment; drop spindles; spinning wheels; felting supplies; dyeing products; yarn of all types (plain for home-dyeing, or coloured variously as the rainbow); knitting needles; crochet hooks; buttons (outsized wooden, ceramic, vintage); blankets, blankets, and more blankets.  Refreshingly, there were signs urging ‘Please touch!’

Please touch!

Double-take signage

One stall was devoted to all varieties of guernsey knitting, with cute little knitted samples. Every pattern tells a story.


Propagansey's display of traditional patterned fishing jumpers

There was extreme knitting with giant knitting needles so mesmerising that I forgot to take a picture. And Susie Johnson of the Wool Sanctuary, responsible for Kirsty’s cute beach hut draft excluder, had a pretty stall. Jane Beck was there with her impeccable vintage and modern Welsh tapestry blankets, cushions, and now (in a new departure) clothing. I really enjoyed speaking with Jane who is pleasantly straightforward and direct. Coming away without buying anything was a struggle as her stall was too tempting; look out for her gorgeous line in vibrant waistcoats cut from end-of-line bolts of wool.

As you might expect, I had my eyes peeled for recycling and upcycling ideas. I found:-

recycled sari yarn…

Sari silk

Recycled saris

rag-rugs being made from old t-shirts…

Making an upcycled t-shirt rug

Patricia making a rag-rug from old t-shirts

and also from tweed skirts, by Jenni Stuart Anderson… who sells lovely implements for rag-rugging and has written a couple of good books on the subject.

Rag-rug maker, Jenni Stuart Anderson

Jenni Stuart Anderson's rag-rugs

There were knitted and fulled wool rectangles (those these weren’t actually recycled, but nevermind) from Undy Yarncrafts

Fulled wool sample squares

Felted lambswool

and simple peg looms for rudimentary weaving of  scrap clothing strips: denim jeans, for example. Again, I got too excited to take snaps.

Moving away from the recycled wares, I found these beautiful hand-dyed cotton/silk embroidery threads from Strawberry Seahorse.

Hand-dyed embroidery threads

Hand-dyed embroidery cottons and silks

And I thought these Alpaca socks, from John Arbon Textiles in North Devon, were gorgeous; my picture doesn’t really do full justice to the delicious stripe and contrast heel/toe combinations. John Arbon also has a range of salvage cotton socks made from end-of-line and surplus yarn stocks which would otherwise be thrown away.

Gorgeous wool socks

Alpaca socks, made in the UK

Dotted here and there were pens of real, live sheep. I spotted some angora bunnies too.

Sheepish exhibit

It's Wales. We have sheep.

Punters queued placidly outside the metal fencing for the Wool School. Inside were workshops such as Understanding and Maintaining your Spinning Wheel and Knitting without Needles. I was signed up for Fibre Choice and Preparation with Sue Blacker of the Natural Fibre Company. When the gate opened, we filed in obediently like a flock of compliant sheep. Our tutor unfolded entire shorn fleeces from sacks and had us feel and assess the fibres, their differences dictated by breed, health, age, location (both on the animal’s body and of the breed within the landscape). Sue’s knowledge and clarity were admirable, as was her obvious affection for her subject. It was oddly moving to see that sheep turn grey with age, just as people do. And to hear that stress experienced by the animal affects the quality of wool;  it will become ‘fragile’ – i.e. the staple may break when stretched –  if a sheep suffers a shock, such as a dog worrying it. A ewe may suffer similarly from the stress of having triplets. Sue explained how black sheep go reddish in the sun, and brown sheep go blonde (at least on the tips), so if you want to maintain your sheep’s original colour you must keep it in by day and only let it out to graze under cover of darkness. The fleeces were raw and unwashed and amazingly greasy to the touch, almost as though dubbin had been applied, but this was just the naturally occurring lanolin. It’s now obvious to me that sheep are waterproof, and I wonder why every schoolchild doesn’t get the chance to feel a sheep’s fleece too.

Wool school

Wool school

Fatigue and information overload were setting in by mid-afternoon and I was pretty much finished before I reached Finnish felting. I snoozed on the coach journey home, dozing off some time after we spotted a field of improbably gangly Alpaca. The small square piece of fleece I bought just before leaving the festival came in handy as an impromptu pillow against the coach window. No sheep-counting necessary.

Wonderwool Wales 2012 will take place April 28-29, Royal Welsh Showground, Llanelwedd, Builth Wells, Powys, LD2 3SY. Enquiries: enquiries@wonderwoolwales.co.uk or 01938 820495

*I apologise unreservedly for the quality of that pun.


Nov 28

Advent bells

Knitting gauge decorations

Vintage bell-shaped knitting gauges

These bell-shaped knitting needle gauges originated in the Victorian era: 1847 to be precise. Bell gauges were specifically mentioned in some Victorian knitting patterns and are useful if you’re working from pre-1920s British knitting patterns as needle sizes were a little different then.

However, bell gauges also make lovely Christmas tree decorations, especially for the haberdashery-obsessed. The oldest gauges run to size 28, a very fine needle indeed, but most go no further than size 24: perfect to mark the days of Advent.

The ones pictured are Abel Morrall’s, Walker and Jager brands, dating  from the early-to-mid twentieth century. I’ll be selling them at my Christmas fairs but only have a handful, so catch them while you can.

Bell gauge Christmas decs

Abel Morrall's Walker and Jager brands

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