Friday, 27 May 2016

Wool at Chelsea Flower Show

"You'll never believe it, but this year's Chelsea Flower Show starts with a fabulous flourish of floral wool!"  I sailed into the kitchen, full of news.  "The whole entrance to the Royal Hospital was totally carpeted with knitted poppies."
My companion paid close attention as I carried in my bags from the trip.
"Don't suppose you remembered to visit the patisserie?"
"Mille feuilles bought fresh in London, this very morning!"
Even an open box of cream cakes could not shut me up for long.
"The Great Pavilion was spectacular and the exhibitors have so much expertise.  I've ordered a clematis viticella which ought to survive on that gate arch where the jasmine died."
"Did you see Monty Don?"
"No, but there were TV cameras and presenters everywhere.  Surreal, to be mingling with the planterati, in real life."
"Oh, never mind mingling, I'd steal the show, Beaut.  A glamorous ewe always turns heads."
"You would certainly have been the only sheep in Chelsea.  There was a goat, though, centre stage, and one of the Fresh Gardens was full of dye plants and it had fleeces and yarn in it, see."  I showed Elinor my photos.
"Mmm, lush dye colours.  Bet that orange came from coreopsis.  The blue must be woad, ooh, yes, look at that flowering woad plant.  How come they only got such a titchy little space? Wool deserves a proper, grand show garden."

Splitting a slice of cheesecake between us, we contemplated a Dyed in the Wool scheme that would warrant a spot on the show's Main Avenue.
"Hawthorn bushes, all covered with May blossom, surrounded with swathes of their pale gold dyed silk.  Silver birches and a gnarly apple tree, piles of branches, stripped to make bark dyes."
"A great big iron cauldron on a 
tripod over a fire pit and a huge copper ram, to represent the metal mordants and modifiers."
"A classic spinning wheel, with hand carders and combs."
"Spindles dangling from a tree like fruit, fat with scarlet madder root dyed yarn."
"A boundary fence of open shelves with a whole range of solar jars, full of petal colours soaking into wool, diffracting the sun like stained glass."
"Ooo, yes, and in the background, some history, a mediaevel 
monastery - most of the monks' wealth came from monopolising the wool trade."
"Actually, there was one stall selling sheepswool - as garden compost. How times have changed."
"Could you manage a vanilla macaron?"
"Rude not to."
We ate our cake in remarkable harmony.
"Which was the best, then?"
"Well, there were two that truly stirred the soul. Cleve West's garden filled my heart, then Andy Sturgeon's broke it.  I've never cried over any garden before.  In my opinion, the judges gave the top award to the right designer."
Elinor licked a bit of cream off her hoof.
"In my opinion, it was the chocolate gateau."

Friday, 20 May 2016

Upcycling Old Woolen Suits

Last summer, I dip dyed two cotton cushion covers in a Japanese Indigo plant vat, overestimating the strength of the remaining indigo. Hoping the washed out blue result would pass for shabby chic, beach style, I put them up for sale in Crafts by the Sea.
"No takers, then, Beaut?"  My companion, Elinor Gotland, looked up from her knitting and caught me smuggling the dusty cushions back into the house.
"Well, business has been slow for everyone.  These just need to be spruced up."

"Face it, Beaut, shop soiled or not, those cushions are as dull as tea without sugar. Speaking of which, you really should try this lemon and ginger kind."  I can't much be bothered making ordinary tea, now I've sworn off sugar.  Elinor just hates waiting for a caffeine withdrawal headache to force me toward the kettle.  She stared at the cushion covers.  "I was thinking clouds, but no, sheep with a blue rinse, that's what those blotchy tie dye patterns remind me of."
Refreshed and revitalised by my fruit tea, I positively raced upstairs to find himself's old navy winter suit.  I went through a phase of buying 100% wool jackets from charity shops, certain the fabric would be marvellous for some future project.  This ended when I discovered that deconstructing them takes an age, so much interlining, padding and double seaming shapes a man's suit that they are probably bulletproof.  When you finally peel off the woven wool surface, much of it is rigid with stiffener, ironed on to the inside. Remembering I had saved that navy suit anyway, after some rootling in more likely spots, I found it in the boiler cupboard with all the others.

Iron on backing does mean you can cut out a shape from fabric and it won't fray at the edges.  Sew it on, add a couple of cuff buttons for eyes and some art yarn to be grass and voila, Blue Ewe cushions. Celestial sheep.
Rather than stripping a jacket down, it is possible to upcycle whole sections.  The intact garments survive a washing machine wool cycle and a press with a hot iron far better than the dry clean only label suggests.  Instead of being a beast to unpick, the pockets can prove useful. This file cover, with handy pen holder, was made by wrapping the complete lower half of a brown wool jacket round a file and oversewing the top and bottom edges. Adding elastic to hold on a pencil sharpener and a rubber was overkill, such things could just as well go inside the front pocket, really. Next, a pocketed cover on a notebook, decorated with extra buttons from the button stash, then a pocket on a pencil pot.

Exhilarated by all this Putting of Saved Up Stuff to Good Use, I could hardly bear to chuck out the scraps. Sew a couple of small squares together, stuff them with waste material, needlefelt on a scrap of wool and felt the whole thing in a hot wash. Stitch a brooch pin on the back and you have a wool badge.

I went to show them to Elinor.
"Mmm, try one on then, Beaut. Oooo, Suits Ewes."
"Oh, very funny.  Just wait til you see how I have woolified my sunhat."
"Well, this hat ticks all the boxes for Chelsea Flower Show.  To be the Belle of the Great Pavilion, all you need now is a ticket."
"Actually, Elinor, I have two."

Friday, 13 May 2016

Adding Beads to Lace Knitting

The April knit along on Boo Knits Ravelry Forum was a mystery pattern called Danse Macabre. Everyone knew it would be a lace shawl and a fair sized one at that, given the yarn yardage.  I hadn't enough handspun lace weight, but after a particularly miserable dentist appointment in March, I cheered myself up in the wool shop, buying two balls of Debbie Bliss Fine Donegal in deep red with tiny slubs of blue, orange and black, with a view to joining in. Danse Macabre is supposed to be knitted in silk yarn with beads added, even in the plain upper part. Each week in April, a section of the pattern was released and people shared photos of their progress. Though I intended to do without, I soon wished I had bought 
beads, seeing how pretty all the other versions of this shawl were looking.  Past attempts at beading have been misdirected - first I thought they had to be threaded on to the yarn in advance, which I did making Butterfly Wedding - it was a nightmare.  Nevertheless, when I came across a pile of beaded bangles with all my yarn slub colours, lying in a pile in a charity shop, it seemed Fate was taking a hand.  Using a bit of fuse 
wire to poke through the loop of any stitch marked for beading, I bent up the wire ends together and slid a bead down.  The holes in the beads were just big enough, though a tight squeeze getting over any slub in the yarn. Painfully slow going and as you can see from the photo, the beads did not stand out.  Never mind, press on, they looked quite funky in real life and I could already feel how the knitted fabric was gaining drape
and swing from the tiny added weights.  As the stitch count increased and the complexity mounted, it got harder to keep up with the Ravelry Boo Knits pack. Watching a Youtube video and buying a tiny 0.5mm crochet hook speeded up the beading no end. You load your beads onto the shaft, keep the hook standing up in a mug on your right hand side and simply take the indicated stitch off the needle with the
 tip of the crochet hook and slide a bead down over the yarn. Danse Macabre was a cracking knit, with clear instructions and never dull, each section revealing unexpected and pleasing lace patterns.  The bead pattern adds another dimension - or it does if the beads show up.  Lots of knitters used similar bead colours to yarn colour, only a few of the glamour shots of the finished shawls really demonstrate the full beaded effect.  My beads are lost in the slub.

The border of Danse Macabre is wonderful, a sort of paw print of big holes, using a technique new to me.  Thinking a lighter yarn could enhance the impact of beading, I grafted the border pattern onto the narrow body of another Boo shawl, Dragonfly Wings, this time using a pale grey Shetland yarn. Technically, this worked out fine, but I now realise multicoloured beads are not the best way to draw the eye to a bead pattern. 

My last attempt at beading this border pattern intrigued my companion.
"Knitted yourself a merkin, have you, Beaut?  Planning to pole dance in a vajazzle G String?"
"I prefer to shake my thing in big pants, thank you, Elinor.  This is just the set up rows for Danse Macabre with a couple of extra increases to do the border pattern with one repeat only.  The white beads do show up well, but I'd never lace knit a whole shawl in black alpaca."

I rubbed my aching eyes and closed them, silently resolving that in future, I'd choose pale yarn in a solid colour and add deep, glossy beads.  Deep, dark times indeed, the dentist has forbidden me to put sugar in my tea, if I want to keep my teeth.  I was jolted out of my ghastly, gummy ruminations by Scarlatti, blaring from the speakers.  Elinor turned the volume up even higher.  Flinging the tiny shawl about her shoulders, she stamped her hooves and whirled into a wild fandango.
"Never mind the big pants, get your castanets out, Beaut.  No-one is too decrepit to Danse Macabre!" 

Friday, 6 May 2016

Last Dance of the Avant Garde

Penarth Pier Pavilion is holding an art exhibition.  My companion Elinor Gotland and I circled the hall in opposite directions, examining each piece in silence.  Standing in front of what looked like a metal greenhouse workbench, I wondered if the thin grass growing on the tray was real or artificial. Oblong white blocks lay on top.  I read the card beside it.  'Untitled (lard)'.  Blimey.  I peered more closely.  Those blocks really did look like lard.  What would happen if the weather warmed up?  Light coming through high windows left the lower walls in shadow, maybe 'Untitled (lard)' would have been safer over there in the gloom, by my own picture, 'Last Dance'.
Seeing it hung among the other pieces was like meeting an old friend in a strange town.  A small shock, a reappraisal, a what are you doing here?  Elinor joined me, looked at Last Dance for a moment, then moved on without a word.  I busied myself looking through the viewfinder of a plywood version of one of those boxed binoculars you sometimes see at seaside resorts.  No need to feed coins into this one.  Inside, in stop motion animation, birds flapped on the beach, people dumped junk and finally, an oil platform blew up.

"This an art exhibition, is it?  Bloody rubbish, man."  
Three visitors had come in and one had a bell in every tooth.  They were approaching the small TV, where you could watch a film of someone changing her bra without taking her top off.  
"That's porn, that is."  
The South Wales accent does lend itself to expressing a forthright opinion.
Me, I was just bewildered.  

While I have been letting rip just lately blogging about making unlikely wool works, that was not quite as spontaneous an outburst of creativity as it might have seemed.  They were all geared toward The Makers Guild in Wales summer exhibition on the theme 'Weave'.  It was open to anyone to enter and I duly sent in photos of my 'Belles Dames sans Merci'.  All three were refused, which made it even more disorientating to have had Last Dance accepted in Penarth, after a submission made in haste a couple of months ago, on the strength of a chance conversation with a felt artist I was chatting to in the craft shop.  I don't think she anticipated anything like this show either.

"Come on, Beaut, let's go out the back way, through the cafe."  Elinor was at my elbow, steering me towards a pot of tea.  We sat down at a table outside and I piled sugar into my cup while my companion lit up.  The waitress came out and told us smoking wasn't allowed.  Moving to a bench further down the pier, we looked back at the seafront, where not so much as a crisp packet littered the beach, the buildings all looked freshly painted and the only dirty car parked on the esplanade was mine.  I wished I was twenty miles further west, back on the tideline of the Ogmore estuary, enjoying my smoke on a driftwood log amid the comfortable squalor of washed up shoes and plastic bottles.
 "I'm sorry, Elinor, I had no idea Penarth art exhibition was going to be like this, I've not a clue why they picked my work, I don't know what to make of any of them."
Elinor howled with laughter.
"If they'd wanted people to understand the art, they'd have put little explanations up.  Did you hear that woman saying 'Bloody rubbish!'?  Brilliant, Beaut, bloody brilliant."  
"Well, I don't speak the right language to say what is or isn't rubbish art and I'd have liked a bit of help understanding some of the other things in the exhibition.  I feel such a fraud.  Even the lady on the reception desk had an art degree."
"Better to be a selected artist than a rejected maker.  Drink up your tea and come, my Bohemian chum, we shall not be leaving a tip."  Stubbing out her fag in the saucer, my companion strode back toward the pavilion.  I gathered up the crockery and hurried behind.  Elinor swung round on her hoof for long enough to shout  "You do realise what this means, don't you, Beaut? You're going to have to wear a beret now you've joined the avant-garde!"

Making celtic type knots from the different flight patterns of bees when they are searching for or finding nectar seems to me more comprehensible than a recording of their buzzing.  If I tell you Last Dance celebrates the vitality of those who make the most of their season, that the bees still dance at the frayed edge of summer in the face of the autumn wind, does that make you see it differently?