I’m writing this post seven weeks into the UK Covid-19 lockdown and in our household I am relieved to say that so far we are fit and well. As an artist and designer, an excuse to sit around in my PJs all day making stuff and drinking wine was kinda my dream job so I adapted quite quickly to the new way.
However, a month in to social distancing and a few weeks past my regular hair cut appointment, a minor problem arose and some choices needed to be made:
wear a hat (yep, always!)
let it grow and use elastic bands (least favourable as most annoying and time consuming)
shave it off (and we have a winner!)
Wear a Hat
I did, with the help of Mr B, clipper it all off in the end.
But I do like a hat. I have an assortment of knitted beanies, baseball caps, boonies, a tweed flat cap, and a fedora.
Me knitted beanie
Tweed flat cap
And as the lockdown hair crisis options, listed above, are not mutually exclusive, and in my opinion you can never have too many hats, a bit of knitting was in order.
I am a huge fan of 1940s knitwear and have an ever growing collection of books from that era. I am particularly interested in the innovative use of stitch type to create garment shape, and the economical use and reuse of yarns. While I was flicking through one of my favourite books the other evening (the hand written dedication in the front was dated 1943) I came across a section on hats. While the beautifully styled black and white photos showed dewy faced models in tailored outfits and serious expressions, the hats themselves were pure comedy.
It’s foolish but it’s fun
I was particularly drawn to the “Three-cornered Hat” described in the title as “It’s foolish but it’s fun” and had to have a go. Not least because the three styling options presented in the book (and notated as “there are three angles to every triangle you may remember; so there are three angles from which to consider this enchanting trifle of a triangular hat”) looked like some serious photo shoot fun.
I knitted my hat striping odds and ends of sock yarn (4ply) on 3.25mm needles. The instructions were simple (particularly when I had translated them to modern knitspeak):
CO 286sts, placing a marker to highlight the half way point (143sts), and work thus:
Row 1 and every row thereafter: *K2tog, work to 2 sts before the marker, k2tog, SM, k2tog, work to last 2 sts, k2tog. This is repeated until 6sts remain.
Nxt row: K2tog three times. 3sts.
Nxt row: K3tog.
Once finished the fun began in constructing the hat.
The CO edges were folded in half and sewn together (the original pattern suggested crocheting them together). I then used a 3mm circular needle to pick up and knit 138 sts around the head opening and worked 7 rows of garter stitch before BO. (Again the original pattern suggested working a crochet border).
The result was indeed a foolish but fun hat.
When I showed it to my Mum she laughed out loud as apparently her Mum used to make her and her sisters this type of hat when they were children.
I can throughly recommend taking some time at the moment to create something whimsical and foolish. If the knitters of the early 1940s could maintain their sense of humour during a World War, then I think we can too.
I hope you are staying safe and well, wherever in the world you are.
I love it when folks on my workshops show me their finished projects from a previous session. This happened to me recently and prompted some discussion about how the artist in question might present a fab piece of stitched art she’d worked on. As this is a topic that we rarely have time to cover in our half day sessions I thought it would make a good blog post.
So many ways to do it
There are many ways to present 2’d’ work and I am often inspired as much by presentation ideas as I am by the work itself when I visit exhibitions. There is even a 160 page book by Annabelle Ruston called Framing and Presenting Textile Art so as you can see it is quite an in depth topic.
However I’m going to keep it very simple for the purposes of this post and give you an idea of how I usually do it. The methods I use are, generally speaking, reversible. I like to keep my (and any buyer’s) options open on how they would like to present the work as I know from experience that framing fashions change and I have also been known to rework my work (or incorporate it into something else) at a later date.
Stretching the work for framing
I work with natural fabrics and threads so I usually give my work a blast with a steam iron both during stitching and afterwards. However, I want the fabric to look like fabric so my aim isn’t to flatten and smooth everything out completely, more to allow it all to “set” and “settle” before framing.
Using archival quality mount board, cut to the required frame dimensions and quilting cotton doubled, I place the picture over the board in the composition that I’m after (checking the front with any mounts I’m planning to use in the frame) and stitch across the long sides first. There is an optimum tension to be achieved during this, which takes a bit of practice and trial and error. Too much starts to curl the mount board, not enough leaves saggy bits in the picture.
Once the long ends are done I do the same with the short ends. In both instances I tend to start in the middle of the board and work out to the edges. The corners might need a little more stitched help as they can get a bit bulky. As mentioned before, I don’t tend to cut any fabric as I might want to undo my work at a later date. However, if this bulk is going to influence how the picture lies in the frame then you might need to get the scissors out and practice your wrapping skills.
Using a Hoop
Another way of framing stitched pieces is using an embroidery hoop. In some ways this is much easier (and cheaper) as the hoop creates the tension for you.
In the piece above I have chosen a suitable sized embroidery hoop to frame the work (not necessarily the one it was worked in) and have stretched the work and fastened the hoop. You could of course finish the hoop (paint, tape, fabric strips etc) beforehand if you want a more decorative effect.
I then use a running stitch in the quilting cotton, just in from the hoop’s edge to ease in the fullness of the fabric. Again, you can cut the surplus fabric if you want to reduce the bulk. If you are working with fine fabrics you might also want to place a circle of mount board or light coloured fabric between the back of the work and the gathered edges to prevent the gathered fabric influencing the front of the work.
There are a number of ways to finish and neaten the back after gathering. Many people stitch a circle of fabric/felt to the back over the top of the gathers. I tend to use a circle of mount board, gently pushed in (again, easy to dismantle at a later date) as I quite like how it slightly domes the front. I also saw at this year’s Knitting and Stitching show that a company was selling wooden circles to finish their hoop art kits.
I hope that this post has been helpful. As mentioned before, there are many ways to frame and display your work. I’ve just given you two.
Get it on the wall
However you choose to do it, the most important thing is to get it on the wall. It’s amazing how framing and presenting the work in a professional way adds status to it. So much better than leaving it screwed up in a project bag under the bed!
Please feel free to comment below if you have any other tips to share.
World War 1 ended at 11am on 11th November, 1918. This year, to mark its centenary, the Royal British Legion are leading a campaign to say a special #thankyou100 to all who served and sacrificed.
As part of this campaign I was asked by a local garden centre to teach a workshop on knitted poppies. As a number of my e mail subscribers and social media followers expressed interest but were unable to attend, I promised to share some patterns with you here that I’ve enjoyed making.
Simple rib Poppy
This is a lovely simple pattern which involves knitting a ribbed rectangle, performing a couple of decrease rows, sewing a seam and gathering an edge. I’ve finished my version with a button but you could use a knitted or embroidered centre. I think this would look lovely on the side of a knitted beanie as well as on a lapel. I used Rowan Felted Tweed DK in this version.
This more sophisticated poppy is a field poppy designed by Lesley Stanfield and is available in her lovely book “100 flowers to knit and crochet”. I knitted it in Rowan Cotton Glace. If you are a fan of knitted flowers I do recommend this book. Even more so if you can crochet as it has lots of gorgeous patterns including butterflies and vegetables.
Stocking Stitch Poppy with leaf and stem
This pattern is another free one, this time from Woman’s Weekly and can be found here. It is a little more complicated than the previous two as it involves some short row shaping but as you can see it is quite striking. I made this version in DK cotton and finished it with a reclaimed button for the centre.
I hope these patterns tempt you. They don’t take long and don’t use much yarn.
I love September. It is probably my favourite month of the year. In the Northern hemisphere there is so much energy around after the lazy days of Summer. The light is beautiful, deep and golden, in contrast to the bright glare of the previous months. The air has a wonderful silky feel and ripe fruit smell to it.
I also find it my most creative time of year. This might be due to the build up to Christmas which as a maker and a teacher of crafts, is the highlight of the year for sales. It is also probably due to spending many years as a competitive athlete where Summer was race season. After a two week break, September always marked the start of a new training regime with all of its exciting promise.
So, if like me, you are itching to get those creative juices flowing this month but are not sure where to start, I thought I’d share some of the things that I use to get doing.
5 Ways to get those creative juices flowing
1. Your own 100 day project
If you are a user of Instagram you might already be aware of the growing phenomena of the 100 day project. The brainchild of Elle Luna, this happens every April where you choose and announce a creative project that you can realistically do every day for 100 days. To keep the motivation going and to introduce some form of accountability, participants are encouraged to post on Instagram daily with their output, both in the 100 day project hashtag as well as your own project specific hashtag.
2018 was my second year of participation in the official 100 day project and you can see my project here #100daysofinspiredbyart.
The official version will begin again next April but there is nothing to stop you committing to your own personal version now. 100 days was originally chosen as a time period where endurance starts to play a part. Many Instagram challenges are 14 days or a month long which is much easier to commit to but equally also much easier to forget about once completed. For 100 days there will be times where it is a chore to contribute to the project and other things will be competing with your time and motivation.
The upside of this is a daily discipline which can become a habit and something that is much harder to let slide. I created a habit of getting the sketchbook out first thing in the morning after grabbing a cup of coffee and letting the dogs out. I am still doing this now.
You will also have created a significant body of work in that time period. I have two full sketchbooks from this year’s project and many of the drawings that I did for it have led to follow on textile work with many more still to be developed.
Interestingly at time of writing we have 113 days to Christmas so another perfect reason to get going?
2. Mind Mapping a theme
In my creative work both making art and designing workshops, I am often given a theme to work to. As deadlines are also usually involved if I waited for a flash of inspiration I would probably end up in a last minute panic with an unsatisfactory piece of work or design. One of the best ways I’ve found for me to generate ideas in these circumstances is to get writing. Mind maps have a way of allowing me to participate in and record these mind dumps. You may remember the process from school or college.
As part of my exhibiting group, Room 6, I will be at the Knit and Stitch Shows this Autumn with an exhibition called “Missing Elements” (more about this in later posts). The picture above shows how I started the process of creating a body of work for this theme. This is only one of many maps and is the start of the process. These are just initial ideas and word associations that came to mind during this 15 minute process. From this, a couple of the ideas would begin to peak my interest and require their own map for further development. Of course if you have a big enough desk you could create it all in one place using a huge piece of paper.
3. Join a class
If you want to learn something new a class or workshop is the perfect place to do it. If you find making time for your creative pursuits difficult as more “important” things always seem to override it, scheduling time in the diary at a venue away from your everyday distractions, for a paid fee, can be a great method of commitment. Hopefully once you get started and remember how valuable it is to you, you can begin to prioritise outside of a class.
Now that the school and college terms are starting up again, there are plenty of workshops and classes on offer for adults (I’ve got a full workshop teaching programme myself between now and Christmas). Keep an eye out on social media too as many teachers and venues list their upcoming classes on their Facebook and Instagram pages.
There are also plenty of on line classes that you can sign up to. Craftsy offers a wide range of classes at different price points, as does Creativebug. I’ve tried classes from both and enjoyed them. On line classes often seem an ideal option as they can be cheaper and they sell you the idea that you can do them at your own pace and schedule. However this might not be a good thing if you are struggling to prioritise the time for your creativity. I have plenty of classes queued up in my on line apps that I haven’t “had the time for” yet.
4. Buy or borrow a book
There are lots of fun books out there which encourage you to do something creative on a regular basis. They may be drawing related, writing related, or more general. Some of them are about inspirational starting points and some give you more detailed instruction on how and what to make/do. What they usually have in common is a prompt of things to do which takes away the procrastination of, e.g. what shall I draw today?
If, like me, you love books, enjoy a few hours in your local book store or library and see which of these types of books might suit you. I usually buy a book when I visit Tate Modern or Britain and read it on the train journey home. By the time I pull up at the station I can’t wait to get my sketchbook out.
5. Get together with friends and make it a social event
The last idea I have for you today is to make your creativity a social event. I have recently recruited a group of my friends in a “creative club” focused on a not so secret Santa idea. We have monthly meetings scheduled to get together over coffee and cake and have some fun drawing, snipping, sticking, writing and baking. I’ll let you know how we get on…….
Please share any tips you have on getting creative in the comments. I’d love to hear.
Knitting and stitching are wonderful meditative practices and sometimes peace and quiet (or a gently snoring dog) is the most soothing accompaniment. However, for me, having my hands busing working on something repetitive actually improves my listening skills.
I am one of those doodlers in a meeting who, far from being bored and distracted, is concentrating harder on what is being said through the use of a physical focus. I would have taken knitting to meetings when I worked in an office but I think that would have been tolerated less and misinterpreted even more than drawing on my hand outs. I’m sure there is an explanation for this phenomenon involving different parts of the brain, which I have yet to look into. In the meantime I thought I would share with you my current top five things to listen to while knitting.
I am a massive fan of these and have a 24 book (which only lasts me about 9 months!) annual subscription with audible.co.uk. Many people view listening to audiobooks as something less productive than reading. However, I have found that some stories really come to life with the right narrator. Some of my regular readers will know already what a massive fan of Terry Pratchett I am and his books definitely fall into this category.
At this time of the year I usually indulge in a Charles Dickens novel as nothing quite beats his witty observations of Victorian England to put me in the festive mood. Last Christmas I enjoyed Great Expectations one of my favourite novels from childhood. This December I am listening to Hard Times. Both of these novels are expertly narrated by Martin Jarvis and if you haven’t read a Dickens novel for a while I throughly recommend you listen to one of these.
Being more of an enjoyer of fiction than chat, I came quite late to the podcast genre but am now finding myself listening to more and more of these interview and magazine style programmes. The first I’d like to recommend to you is “Tea and Tattle” a marvellously feminine lifestyle podcast (I was put off to start with, expecting make up and fashion tips but was pleasantly surprised after listening to it). It is presented by best friends Miranda Mills and Sophie Butler and really does feel like you are having a chat over a cup of tea in a cosy kitchen about things ranging from literature to business to hygge.
At the other end of the spectrum I love listening to “Under the Skin” a sometimes risky and occasionally controversial podcast hosted by Russell Brand. I know he is a bit Marmite but I find him honest and entertaining and the subjects he discusses are current and thought provoking.
Radio Six Music.
For times when I am likely to be moving around a bit more and can’t concentrate quite so hard on the spoken word I choose the radio as my background. For many years my choice of station has been the fabulous Six Music. This is a digital only station where the DJs are all passionate about music either having been in, or currently still in, bands themselves (Cerys Matthews, Jarvis Cocker, Huey Morgan etc) or music journalists e.g. Steve Lamacq, Stuart Maconie and Mark Radcliffe. The result is a station which looks at music as a whole, not restricting itself to one or two genres, and where current releases are played alongside great and inspiring music from previous decades. I have been introduced to so many new bands through this station as well as authors, comedians and actors who have either been interviewed or have guest hosted their own show.
I was brought up in a household where music was the constant background courtesy of my father and his extremely wide taste in music. This is a man who went halves with me when I bought Prince’s Purple Rain album as a teenager, was extremely fond of Pink Floyd (I can’t hear Shine on you Crazy Diamond without remembering Dad and my childhood), was just as likely to have a classical album on as a rock/pop one, and who initiated my love of Jazz, a musical taste that I share with Mr B and indulge in regularly through visits to local live music venues in our locality. The most recent of these was a trip to the wonderful Turner Sims music venue at Southampton University to see the extremely talented jazz pianist Aaron Diehl, and his trio. I have since been playing rather a lot of his 2015 album, Space, Time, Continuum. Dad would have loved it.
Midsomer Murdersre runs.
And finally, here comes the guilty pleasure. If the TV remote is the only form of entertainment at your fingertips, you can’t beat a bit of Midsomer Murders to stitch to. Its wonderfully formulaic structure, the 95% likelihood of Wogan’s Law coming true (i.e. the most famous actor did it) and the chance that you have seen the episode a number of times before, makes it the perfect programme to have on in the background. If you get stuck on a tricky bit of stitching and have to focus concentration away from the screen, it is unlikely that you won’t catch right back up when your attention can return to it.
What do you like to listen to while you are creating? Do share in the comments. I’d love to hear.
I’m going to make a confession to you. I am an unsociable knitter. Knitting combined with nattering is not for me and while wonderful supportive multi generation communities have evolved around a common love of the craft (and even a genre of “chick lit” has been inspired by these gatherings) it transpires that I can’t stitch n’ bitch. Even the careful selection of specific projects suited as a background activity hasn’t helped me to join in with these social and sociable events and I have come to the realisation that the act of knitting for me is no longer the distraction activity of a hand wringer and cuticle picker but has evolved into an all absorbing meditation.
Finding an inner peace
Quite when this happened I couldn’t tell you. In my twenties I was a keen student of yoga. During this time I was never able to undertake a satisfactory guided meditation at the end of a workout in a smelly school hall, wrapped in a prickly blanket. Perhaps it was the idea of all that sand sticking to me (we were always told to imagine ourselves on a beach!) and the possibility of bugs crawling into my sweaty hair, which left me more tense than relaxed. Similarly the action of staring at a candle flame only resulted in a headache despite plenty of disciplined practice, while chanting just left me feeling self-conscious.
What is relaxing anyway?
My wonderful husband often berates me for my inability to relax as he equates relaxing with doing nothing (something that I actually find quite stressful). I disagree with him as I think that I relax very well but I do have to be concentrating on something repetitive and methodical in order to still my mind. If I have needles in my hand I will be fully engrossed in the action of creating a piece of fabric, slowly, one stitch at a time and as long as I am not struggling with a particularly difficult pattern, what is more relaxing than that?
Enjoying the Journey
Now I am not an unsociable person but I do enjoy my own company and the quiet companionship of my four legged friends. The term “journey” is probably much overused these days as a way of expressing an involvement and investment in a learning experience (of which life, of course, is the ultimate), but I believe it is a word which explains how I have come to view my knitting and other creative pursuits over the years.
Gone is the focus on an end product. This is quite possibly influenced by years of mild disappointment when that final stitch is placed and the physical result never fully lives up to the time, skill and effort involved not just in the making of this particular item but also in all of those items that were involved in the learning and practice to get to this place. Perhaps there is also a mourning of the end of an enjoyable process with the inevitable what to do now state. And of course for those of us who have tried to sell hand made goods there is also the realisation of the very low value that others put on our invested time and skill when the only comparison they have is how much a “similar” item would cost them if they bought it in Primark.
Meditation in the making
While it would be a bit of fib to suggest, when pattern and exhibition deadlines are looming, that a physical end result is not important. However, there is so much to be gained from the process. There is something wonderful about that suspended state where the only thing that matters is total absorption in creating which I can only really describe as a sense of zoning out. Knitting and drawing are the two activities that really bring on this internalised state for me (running with the dog in the local woods has a similar effect although a higher sense of alertness to my external environment is required for obvious safety reasons) and allow me a temporary escape from the outside world. The great thing about this drug free induced state of calm and meditation is that it can be achieved very easily with practice just about anywhere (I never travel on public transport without a set of sock needles and 4ply in my handbag). The downside is that it can become very addictive and some discipline is required if cooking and cleaning also feature on your list of job priorities. It can also lead to the occasional missed train station stop and appointment but hopefully the calming effect of the preceding meditation will over ride the stress of these hopefully infrequent downsides.
I’d love to hear what drives your making. Is it the creation of an end product, or are you all about the process? Please leave me a comment and let me know.