Tagged: wool

Nov 11




Lamsbwool upcycled hottie cover

Lamsbwool upcycled hottie cover


With her brusque but generous heart, Win fed me and brought me those English-homemaker panaceas – hot-water bottles and hot drinks.

From Ardent Spirits: leaving Home, Coming Back by Reynolds Price


My making this winter is indulging an affection for that great English cure-all, the hot-water bottle or hottie. Cosiness, warmth, comfort, consolation, care, motherly love – it’s all there. And for extra heart and soul, I’ve been upcycling soft cosies individually from old knitwear.

I start with an old sweater – usually fine lambswool or cashmere – that’s been shrunk (intentionally or not) and possibly developed the odd hole or other flaw. Happily, I’m keeper of what I laughingly refer to as ‘the National Sweater Collection’, having been compiling old knits for some time now. So, there’s plenty to pick and choose from. I meticulously launder and treat each source garment individually (often washing by hand in lavender-scented wool wash), dry it carefully, comb or brush it, then send it for a short stay in the freezer in a ziplock bag to ensure there are no unwanted visitors. By the end, I’ve completely revived and refreshed it, ready for its new life.

Sweaters for upcycling

Sweaters for upcycling


Then I make a bespoke pattern for the particular hot-water bottle as I want it to fit nice and snuggly. Each raw-material garment requires unique, thoughtful treatment.  It takes a little while for me to figure out how best to convert it – quite often I make the bottom of the garment into the top of the cover, for example. Then, once I have my pieces cut, I stitch each cosy together on a vintage Singer sewing machine. I’m now selling these rather sophisticated, soulful and sustainable hotties in my Etsy store. Each comes with a rubber bottle too so is great value, as well as being hugely cuddlesome. Perhaps using one will enable you to turn the central heating down a notch, so buying one may even save you money in the long run. This fabulously soft green cashmere hottie is available over here.  12/11/14 Just sold, but more are in the pipeline. Please get in touch if you’d like a particular colour or style. Thanks. – E x


Cashmere hottie with pompoms

Cashmere hottie with pompoms


And if you’d like a bespoke hottie, I can make something to your particular colour/style requirements from my stock of upcycled garments, or from a piece of knitwear you supply (perhaps something with sentimental value). So get in touch if you’d like one made especially for you. Convo me through Etsy, or take a look at my About page for my email address. There’s still plenty of time to get yours before Christmas.




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





Sep 10




Micro-patching is my current obsession. I’ve made up the term – at least, I think I have. It could already be some kind of hack in the world of software engineering (is it?) but here it succinctly describes using the teeniest textile scraps, usually of Liberty Tana lawn, to cover holes and other faults in a garment etc. Sometimes I apply them as reinforcements: around pocket edges, for example (see my purple granny cardi below). And sometimes I apply them just for the heck of it. To be honest, I need very little excuse to use Liberty fabric, so sometimes I don’t wait for a repair.

This week, my patch of choice has been circular, and my mission has been to cover genuine holes. Moth holes, to be precise.




If you have a similar woollen garment to repair, be sure to treat it first for moths; I hand-wash with an appropriate wool wash, air-dry flat thoroughly, then freeze for a week or two inside a zip-lock plastic bag. That usually shows the little blighters what for.

To make the tiny round patches, I’ve applied scraps of the lightest iron-on interfacing to my lawn scraps first, just to ensure that my patches are stable. This is my preference and isn’t absolutely essential as lawn is such a closely woven fabric that it won’t fray much (if at all) nor stretch out of shape, though it will get softer and collapse with wash and wear. So, I use interfacing to make them just a little more robust and shape-holding. Then I’ve cut out circles, using whatever round thing happened to be close to hand for a template: cotton-reels, buttons, money, thimbles, etc.

I had a lot of holes to cover, so arranging the patches was my next task. I tried not to draw attention to certain areas by using fabrics which toned with my flamey orange Brora cashmere tank top – a charity shop buy, incidentally, and cheap as chips because of its parlous moth-holed state. Other areas could carry more of a punchy contrast. You might feel a bit like a tattoo artist doing this, trying to figure where best to position a patch to enhance the wearer’s physique. Or not. If you have a really awkward hole (right over a sensitive part of the bosom, for example) you need to think very carefully about your repair. This might not be the right place for a micro-patch.


Positioning patches


Once pinned into position, it’s a question of  tacking (even if you never usually baste or tack, I’d advise not skipping this stage for this type of work – it doesn’t take long and you can try on your garment more easily to decide if you’re happy with the result). Then it’s time for stitching over the patch by hand, getting decorative as the mood takes: spirals, concentric circles, radiating lines etc. I rather like a plain, simple back-stitch a few millimetres from the edge of the patch. Blanket stitch will cover the edges, if raw edges bug you, but it yields a slightly raised effect – fine, if that’s what you want. You could free-machine embroider, if you prefer; a few overlapping freehand circles would look really good. But this is hard (OK, impossible) to do on restricted areas such as sleeves etc.


Back-stitched micro-patch


How small can you go with these micro-patches? Well, if you’re just covering a mark or soiled area, you can go very itsy-bitsy as there’s no repair to effect; so as long as you can secure it well to the background fabric, you can go wild with your teenies. If you’re covering a hole, however, I’d ensure there’s at least a half-inch margin of sound fabric all around the edge of the repair. Now, if you stitch well over your patch, it should hold up well. To be extra secure, you could even try sandwiching it, with one patch on the outside, another of the same size on the inside; this could be done without any interfacing for a softer, more yielding repair. And then you’re spared seeing the raw edges of your repair on the wrong side of the garment. 



Radiating lines of split stitch


I get a real buzz from using up even the smallest jewel-like scraps of Liberty fabric. Do you? Seems almost criminal to throw them away. If you have a go, please show me how you get on. There’s a place to share your repairs, by the way, over here at The Big Mend group pool. Jump on in! The water’s lovely. 

I also love the satisfaction of working old-school tradition patching techniques which leave strong, finished edges; I will be teaching these (plus creative ways to repair jeans) in my half-day patching class, Patch-ologyPlease visit my classes page for details: forthcoming dates are Wednesday 18th September, Monday 7th October, and Friday 8th November. But I like to play it dangerously with my lawn, risking raw edges (which aren’t going to fray a whole lot anyway) and going smaller and smaller and smaller. Edgy stuff!


Send reinforcements!




Jul 29

Scrap of the week #30


I’m cheating here as this isn’t a scrap of fabric, as such. But it could be. One day.


Raw fleece after a couple of washes


There’s an #onlyinBath hashtag on Twitter. It usually describes the quaint and curious things which could only occur in this rarified, picturesque location. And the subject of this post qualifies. Because there can be few cities where sheep are still grazed within spitting distance of the most splendid stone crescents (I know at least two such locations within the city). And possibly even fewer where the owners of said sheep can’t find takers for the resulting fleeces, even when giving them away. We live in a crazy mixed-up world, folks!

The prospect of a shedload of free Bath fleeces proved too much of a lure for me this week. My gain is yours, however, because I’m giving most of them away, in turn, to the first people who come forward.

These fleeces were sheared from their sheep at the end of June. Some are black (-ish), some white (-ish). They are raw, so you’ll have to clean them up, which is messy and requires a washing space the size of a bathtub (in fact, a bathtub will do nicely) and an alarming quantity of washing-up liquid. But I think it’ll probably be worth it, especially if you want to try your hand at spinning. I’m aiming to create the most wonderful natural stuffing imaginable. That’s the plan, anyway. So far I’ve washed a small portion (see image above) to get a feel for it. My hands are lovely and soft from the lanolin, but the fleece is still full of foreign bodies – mostly of vegetable origin, but some of sheep origin, if you get my drift. It’s obviously a long game.

Sheep and their wool have a long history in this city, of course. From the 13th century, Bath was renowned for its fine woollen cloth, and wool wealth built the early city. You can find out more about this history at the Museum of Bath at Work. Here is one of their displays.



Wool display at the Museum of Bath at Work


The Museum of Bath at Work also kindly hosts the Big Mend, a free monthly mending social which you’ve probably heard me mention before. If you live in/near Bath and ever find yourself with more holes in your favourite garments than you know how to handle, bring them along on the last Wednesday of the month, 7-9pm, and we can help you sort them out. The next meet-up is this Wednesday 31st July. This is the room we work in. It’s light and spacious. Do join us!



The mezzanine level at the Museum of Bath at Work

And if you’re interested in a FREE raw fleece, do leave a comment below or email me. I can’t mail it, so am requesting only local takers, please. First come, first served.




Nov 12

Scrap of the week #25


These deliciously vibrant wool and silk Wallace Sewell ribbon-like woven trimmings were being sold on the Ray Stitch stall at the Selvedge Winter Fair at the weekend. I see that you can buy them on the Ray Stitch website too (though I got a better deal at the Selvedge fair – another good excuse to go next time, should you need one!).

Wallace Sewell ribbon trims


There’s so much you could do with these strips. I can see them gathered simply along their length to create elegant ruffles, or knife-pleated. They could be applied to a cushion, or the front of a jacket.  Or turned into corsages, or buttons. The zingy colours are so rich that a little goes a long way, so I’d like to try cutting some  of the silk ones into short lengths as tabs or tags, or jewel-like visible mending patches, making a prominent feature of their frayed edges. Or I could just wrap them around the gifts of fortunate friends.

Wallace Sewell woven strips


And what would you do with them?



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.


Mar 01

Mimi’s Fresh Fish

I’ve been itching to make Mimi Kirchner‘s Fresh Fish pattern since I bought it from her Etsy store in January. I finally got a chance to play with it at the weekend, prompted by a Piscean member of the family’s birthday this week.

Fresh Fish pattern

100% upcycled fish from Mimi Kirchner's pattern

Mimi fully deserves your custom so I won’t divulge too much about the making. I’ll just say that it’s a thorough pattern. And Mimi’s experience of using recycled elements (pre-felted woolen garments etc) fundamentally informs her approach, so if you’re motivated to recycle old materials in a way that exploits their full creative potential, you should get right over to Doll, Mimi’s blog, without delay. I first became aware of Mimi’s work when I saw one of her kitty series and was blown away by what she managed to make from a straightforward old sweater. Her latest series of  tattoed ladies, made with dyed-over old toile de Jouy (of all things), is a triumph. She invests such personality into all of them.

I can divulge that you actually get two sets of pattern pieces for the price of one with Fresh Fish: one for stretchy materials, one for regular woven fabric (furnishing fabrics or medium-weight cottons). Both types of fish are well featured on the Flickr Fresh Fish group. I was going for the stretchy version; the fins are the things that need a lot of give, and my merino wool sweater met that brief perfectly. I worried that I might have picked something too stretchy for the main body section, but my choice worked out just fine.

Tail close-up

Fish tail

Something went awry when I cut out the bottom fins – they ended up angled in the wrong direction. I also slipped into auto-pilot part way through and forgot to read the instructions somewhere around the fins, so I didn’t sew the edges together as I think I should have done. This has made them a bit more fluffy and feathery, but I like that. Just as with cooking, the real art of sewing is knowing how to rescue a project when it starts to go pear-shaped.

I cheated right at the end as I didn’t use the recommended felt backing for the eye. Nor did I stitch on a mouth. I could say that I didn’t want to gild the lily, but in truth I simply felt I could get away without adding them. Now that I’ve looked through the Flickr group of fish made using Mimi’s pattern, I wonder if the pale blue cloudy eye on this one doesn’t make him look like he’s a lot less fresh than he might be. He definitely has a distracted, otherworldly, head-in-the-clouds quality which happens to suit the recipient right down to the ground.

Fishy reading

Fish head

What really pleases me is that this fish is entirely upcycled and/or vintage. 100%. Even the stuffing was an old synthetic pillow which had wadded into an unpromising non-pillowish lump in the wash (I know,  I know, the things I hang onto…). I’ve mentioned the fabric (old sweaters) already. The buttons were old (they don’t actually match – poor fish has one eye a little bigger than the other, but don’t we all, and you only see one at a time anyway). All the threads used are at least 20 years old too.

And here is our cat, oblivious to her potential catch. I’ll bet she has this video and song running in her dreams. [Song itself kicks in about 2 minutes in; it’s worth wading through all the preliminary surreality, even if you’ll be humming the tune for days. Sorry!]

The one that got away...

The one that got away


Feb 19

Woolly confessional

I’m doing it again: wearing a charity-shop wool top that I really bought for felting (of fulling, or whatever I should be calling it) in order to upscale it into something else more wonderful.

I must confess that I often feel tempted to just slip on that cardigan or fair-isle tank top once I get my woolly trawl home. I’m often surprised by how much I like wearing what I find. There’s something so deliciously random about the process. Things I buy for shrinking need not be my size, they just have to be made (mostly) of wool. I’m small, so can fit into most sizes, and sometimes the big sizes look better than the small ones. Occasionally, something big shrinks to fit me quite well after felting in the washing machine: that happened with a gorgeous cashmere cardigan. I look for good strong colours for crafting projects, so end up wearing things that I’ve programmed myself to avoid in first-hand shops where my choices are often much more conservative.  I’ve (unconsciously) learned to limit myself over the years. I don’t know why I don’t buy new red woolens, for example, except that I’ve probably tried on the wrong red to suit my complexion at some point, or the wrong pink, or orange, which has set me against that entire chunk of the colour spectrum. As I grow older I’m hoping to grow bolder with colour.

Here’s some colourful wool I managed to locate on a recent charity-shop excursion, though I’m not planning to wear any of it. Mr Green, the tank top on the left, has been cut straight up the middle (why?) so is unwearable, and Ms Designer Stripes there on the right is is entirely the wrong size (too small) and shape. Both will hit the hot wash. Flashy Lord Kingfisher in the middle there is a vintage mohair scarf which just needs gentle sprucing before landing on my spring fair stall.

Do you operate different rules when buying new/second-hand? Have you any wardrobe or crafting quirks that you’d like to confess to? One artist friend, who uses felted garments in her work, told me that she can’t bear to buy second-hand sweaters as she finds them too ‘personal’. She doesn’t mind scarves though. Funny. The personal nature of second-hand doesn’t bother me at all, though I hasten to add that I do wash them before wearing.

Thrifted wool

Colourful charity-shop wool

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