Edinburgh Yarn Festival plans 1: vendors

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My little EYF haul from last year. The Blend No. 1 and the Buachaille were birthday gifts.

Despite being an Edinburgh native, and despite my mother telling me repeatedly how good it is, I only made it to the Edinburgh Yarn Festival for the first time last year. It was good, oh yes, but it was also pretty overwhelming. I wasn’t prepared for how large the marketplace was, and how hot and busy the Corn Exchange would be, and I spent most of the festival wandering about feeling rather shell-shocked, texting Lucy at intervals: “OMG I am literally a yard away from Kate Davies in the flesh! Unreasonably excited!!!”

Although seeing a lot of fibre celebrities in real life was pretty cool, I don’t feel I made the most of the day, and so this year I am making some plans before I go.

First up: what vendors do I especially want to visit? Like a lot of fibre fans, it seems, I’m getting really interested in the provenance of yarns, and their environmental credentials, so I’m particularly keen to check out British-raised/rare breed/small batch/naturally dyed/minimally-processed yarns at the festival. Vendors who fit this description include (in no particular order):

Home Farm Wensleydales – yarn from the farm’s own flock of Wensleydales (and some Blue-Faced Leicesters). Wensleydales are brilliantly eccentric-looking sheep.

Garthenor – undyed organic yarn from British sheep breeds. How gorgeous is their website?!

Cambrian Wool – a community interest company set up to develop products with Welsh wool.

Uradale Farm – organic wool from Shetland

The Border Tart – a Scottish indie dyer specialising in indigo.

Polo & Co – rustic French yarns in natural shades or plant-dyed.

Shetland Handspun – natural and dyed yarns spun by hand in Shetland.

Ardalanish Weaving Mill – yarns and accessories from a farm on the Isle of Mull that uses fleeces from its own and other local sheep.

Daughter of a Shepherd – undyed yarn from the proprietor’s father’s flock of Hebridean sheep.

Woollenflower – plant dyed yarns, and accessories made from reclaimed tweed.

Uist Wool – a cooperative company spinning undyed yarns from local sheep in the Outer Hebrides.

Black Bat – British rare breed wools.

The Border Mill – undyed and naturally dyed alpaca from a lovely small operation in the Scottish Borders. Apparently they have a new 4-ply alpaca-silk tweed range – sounds nice!

Iona Wool – yarn spun from sheep on the island of Iona.

The Little Grey Sheep – Gotland yarn from Hampshire dyed by hand on the farm.

Whistlebare – yarn from Northumberland, dyed on the farm it’s raised on.

Bigger British companies that also produce this kind of yarn include:

Kettle Yarn Co – ethically sourced, hardwearing yarns, some of which are naturally dyed.

John Arbon Textiles [https://www.jarbon.com/yarns-wools] – a Devon mill that produces lots of interesting yarns, including local and single-breed yarns.

Laxtons [http://www.laxtons.com/shop/undyed-yarns-for-hand-dying] – undyed yarns in large quantities.

Blacker Yarns [https://www.blackeryarns.co.uk/knitting-wool-yarns] – spinners of all sorts of British wool, including lots of single-breed yarns.

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Skeins of Border Mill naturally dyed alpaca aran that I got last year after seeing them at EYF.

Whew, that’s a long list! (Well done, EYF organisers, for bringing in so many interesting small producers.) Are you wondering whether I intend to buy from all of them? Of course I don’t; I couldn’t possibly afford to. I want to keep my yarn acquisitions very small and purposeful this year, so I may not come away with much yarn at all. But visiting these sellers, feeling their yarn and learning more about the sheep and people who produce it will be a) pleasurable in itself, b) a good way to learn more about different yarns and their properties, and c) a way of building up a reference index of yarns I like so that next time I need a whole sweater’s worth of wool, I know where to go for it.

This is not a comprehensive list, so if you know of other vendors like this who are coming to EYF, please leave a comment! What vendors are you excited about seeing at the Festival?

wip-down for Lent

img_20170227_150605_676This is a simple idea, not really deserving of a whole blog post, but we thought it made sense to articulate it somewhere more fixed than an Instagram post. So what does everybody think about doing a wip [work in progress]-down in Lent? That means we spend the next six weeks working on finishing off projects that we have hanging around, rather than starting new ones.*  Most of us probably have a sad wasteland of half-finished projects and it’s easy to be tempted by new projects instead of revisiting that place and giving the old projects the attention they deserve. Let’s encourage each other to go to the desert of unfinished things and spend some time working on them this Lent!

Lent is a season for fasting, self-examination and preparation before Easter, and a wip-down is not the only way we will be trying to fulfil those Lenten demands (Hanna will also be attempting to give up sugar – yikes!) But it is an appropriate Lenten challenge  because it will involve both discipline, in forcing yourself to pick up that boring old half-done sock. and self-denial, in ignoring that luscious new skein that’s begging to be cast on.

There’s nothing religious or denominational about the wip-down, sp whatever your reasons for wanting to keep Lent (or tackle the wip mountain!), you are more than welcome to join in with us in resolving only to work on old unfinished projects from 1 March until Easter (Sunday 16 April). We can use the hashtag #lentenwipdown on social media to cheer each other on, and we will check in here intermittently to keep a record of our own progress.

So who else is in? Let us know in the comments, or pop over to Instagram, where we are @hannapatchaesthetic and @lucypatchaesthetic. And good luck!

*Unless they are urgent gift projects – Lent is about denying yourself, not denying others. And if you have so few wips that you finish them all off before the end of Lent, you are entitled to feel very smug and then of course do what you like afterwards .

 

Chicken Carousel

I made this modified version of Kate Davies’s Sheep Carousel tea cosy while on writing retreat with Lucy in Lancashire last month. It was a present for our (absentee) hostess, who has kindly enabled four years of these splendid and productive retreats by lending us her cottage in the Silverdale/Arnside AONB. Dressing her teapot in the chickens she likes so well seemed like the least I could do as a thank you! The FO photos below were taken on a windy day outside the cottage with some very inquisitive farmyard animals.

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goat_teacosy

chickens_teacosy

I have posted the chart below as a .jpg image – you are very welcome to download it by right-clicking and choosing ‘Save this image’ if you want to make your own chicken carousel. You would need a copy of Kate’s pattern as well. The chicken chart calls for a larger stitch count than the original pattern, so be aware of that when planning your project. Mine still came out at about 20″ in circumference (i.e. similar to the pattern spec), but check your own gauge and adjust accordingly. The details of stitch counts and yarn are all on my Ravelry project page.

The Bantams Beanie on Ravelry (inspired by the logo of Bradford City FC!) supplied the basis for the chicken chart; I am very grateful to its designer, Miranda Jollie, for letting me publish this modified version.chicken carousel

Happy chickens everyone!

Dress WLTM Vest

grey cardiganIn the past week, it has been slowly dawning on me that my beloved denim dress is looking for another woolly partner in crime. If we hadn’t had an unusually cold April, the chunky grey cardigan would already be too heavy, and it certainly will be as we go on into May. That cardigan is also a little thick for wearing under coats, so doesn’t work brilliantly in – for example – very wet weather.

So, something else is required, and perhaps as a result of reading Karen’s (of Fringe Association) numerous paeans to the Anna Vest, my fancy quickly settled on a textured vest (a.k.a waistcoat/gilet for those in the house who don’t speak Transatlantic). It needs to have a high crew neck, and buttons that do up in the middle, and fall straight from the bust to the waist: we are looking, in short, for a textured, cropped, swingy, crew neck, buttoned vest preferably in DK or lighter weight yarn.

Despite Ravelry’s sophisticated search function and the huge number of patterns available, I haven’t found quite the right thing.

threevests

The DROPS waistcoat (left) is cropped but doesn’t button right; the J. short vest (centre) is gorgeously swingy and cable-y but has too scoopy a neck (plus it’s in Japanese!); the Tamaqua vest (right) has good texture but is crochet and too chunky.

threeveststwo

Some other cool vests that aren’t quite right: the Kraemer Yarns V-neck (left); the Decent Days vest (centre); the Rowan Glow denim vest (right)

What to do next? Modify one of the above patterns, or design my own? I’m leaning towards the latter, I think. I’ve never done a whole garment before, so this might take a while, but…wish me luck!

Self-control

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Denim midi dress, £55 from warehouse.co.uk

So, yesterday, I walked past the Cambridge city centre branch of the high street women’s clothes shop Warehouse, and this dress was on a mannequin in the window. I don’t mind telling you, my reaction was a bit like this pug‘s (linked because you’d never get the rest of the way through the post if I put that GIF in it).  Instant enchantment, in other words.

Whoa – I haven’t had that reaction to a piece of high street clothing in a long time. Then today, I did something I haven’t done in even longer: I went into Warehouse. It was strangely bright and cramped in there, and there were lots of things made of polyester, but I found the dress and tried it on, and wow! it felt great and looked (I thought!) pretty great and I thought about buying it, I really did. I got some compensation money from my gas company this month for some historic billing f**k-ups, and it would have more than covered it. I was so tempted.

Then I thought: no, I could make this (simple bodice, elasticated waist, A-line skirt) and anyway, it didn’t have pockets, which seemed like a really stupid omission. A dress like that is begging for you to put your hands in deep pockets and slouch a little! In fact, I think the model below is trying to do it and that’s why her hands are hanging in that weird way…sorry, I digress.

warehouse denim dress

I came back and looked at my patterns, and chose two I could mash up (McCall’s 5927 for the bodice and sleeves, Sewaholic Saltspring for the waistband and skirt – with pockets because Tasia of Sewaholic is a sensible woman). I even started browsing for organic denim I could buy, since I don’t have a big enough piece in my stash; I reckon it would need at least 3.5m of wide fabric for a tea-length A-line dress with long sleeves. But in the course of that browsing I re-read So Zo’s musings on organic cotton and decided that it would be unethical to buy new fabric, organic or not, so I will just have to wait till I find something suitable second-hand.

In case you’re wondering what the point of this post is, sorry – and thanks for reading so far – but I don’t really know. It just felt significant that all I’ve read and thought about ethical textiles and conscious consumption and the global garment industry is now actually strong enough to overpower even the sudden mad rush of falling in love with a garment, a rush which took me over the threshold of one of the despised high street shops I usually avoid like the plague, and to the point of contemplating giving them money. I guess maybe I want to say that being part of an online community of thoughtful, caring, responsible makers (like Zoe and Felicia and Karen) can actually make a difference to behaviour, that actually we can encourage and support each other to consider the interests of exploited garment workers and the environment above our own selfish desire for clothing gratification.* Consciousness-raising FTW!

*obviously I don’t know who actually makes clothing for Warehouse and what their working conditions are – but since I don’t know that they aren’t exploited, I have to assume that they might be.

 

further thoughts on a slow wedding dress

Our wedding was on 1st August, and by early February this year, I had some sense of what I wanted the overall shape of my dress to be. I bought this pattern from Etsy (it came all the way from Las Vegas!):

McCall's 7081: a vintage 1963 evening gown dress patternMcCall’s 7081 is a 1963 cocktail dress pattern, and I chose it because of the unusual bust seam lines and boat neck on the front bodice, and the v-neck on the back. The only size I could find was a bust 34, and I spent the next few months working on muslins, trying to refine the fit for my slightly smaller bust, and much narrower back. I invested in a dress form (something I’d wanted for a long time – this project was the excuse I needed!), and with Hanna’s help, adjusted it and added padding around the bust to approximate my dimensions. Although this bodice looks uncomplicated (its sleek simplicity was what had most appealed to me), the front curved seams proved deceptively tricky to alter, and in the end I left them alone, and achieved a better fit by, essentially, removing fabric at the side and back centre seams.

This was the first time I had incorporated muslins into a dressmaking project, and this part of the process was certainly slow, and at times frustrating. It goes without saying that for such a project as this, muslins were entirely necessary, and I would never have cut into costly silk without being fairly sure about the final result. In the end though, I did enjoy this particularly slow stage of the project – rather like when honing a long piece of writing, the repeated, careful revising  eventually left me with a sense of satisfaction and pride, in knowing that I had produced a thing well-crafted.

By late June, I hadn’t yet decided how one or more pieces of the antique lace would be incorporated. I knew that the lace was definitely going to be part of the skirt, and on the back of the skirt (a full-length circle skirt), where it would be most striking. I can’t remember exactly when it was that I finally chose to use just one piece: a tambour net flounce, over 3 metres long, dating from the 1880s, which is coincidentally the same decade in which the church where we were married was built.

IMG_1843I think many people would be shocked that I was still making some quite crucial decisions about my dress with just over a month to go until our wedding day. The timescales prescribed by the wedding industry are often terrifyingly long – it’s not unusual to make practical arrangements and lay down substantial deposits years ahead, and in my experience of others’ weddings, dresses are sourced months, if not also years, in advance. Hanna and I often talk about the disturbing aspects of contemporary wedding culture, in which people are lead to believe that their wedding has to be a day on which everything is ‘perfect’. Women in particular are put under the pressure of ‘perfection’, and not least when it comes to wedding dresses – as the world of bridal magazines would have it, it’s acceptable to spend thousands of pounds on your ‘dream’ wedding dress, a garment which will be worn only once (and is probably made entirely from synthetic fibres, in a factory in China – but that’s a post for another day…).

So in a context in which brides-to-be are expected to plan every little detail of ‘their’ day very far in advance, my wedding dress was in many ways last-minute. As I said in my last post, some people were clearly surprised and concerned that my dress wasn’t finished when I mentioned I was working on it in July. The dress was completed three days before our wedding, without any rush – just the satisfying pleasure of a project thoroughly executed, in the finest of materials (and without an eye-watering price tag). I was delighted with the finished dress, but much of my joy in wearing it came from the slow experience of making it, and the memories of that experience.DSC_0258IMG_2140

Refashioning a bridesmaid’s dress: 1981-2015

If you are thinking how unfortunate 80s wedding dresses were, remember that this was ten days after Prince Charles and Princess Diana got married - it could have been so much worse!
August 1981. L-R: my uncle Derek, my dad, my mum, my mum’s friend Sheila, and my godmother, Marge.

At my parents’ wedding in August 1981, the dresses worn by my mother and her two bridesmaids were handmade (to the same pattern) by my mother’s friend Marge, the bridesmaid on the right in the photo above. When I was born, a few years later, Marge became my godmother, and she’s always been family to me. She’s also been a great inspiration to my crafting, because as long as I’ve known her she has been highly skilled at making: she can do expert patchwork, embroidery, knitting, crochet, and dressmaking, and makes beautiful things for herself and for her lucky friends and relatives.

When I was a child, Marge was the one person I knew who did serious dressmaking and she introduced me to the idea that by making your own clothes, you could present yourself exactly how you wanted to. Of course, it took me quite a long time to work out how I did want to present myself, and to realise that making and refashioning were the key to a thoughtful and emotionally satisfying relationship with my own style, but Marge helped me start that journey by patiently making clothes for me when I was a teenager, even sending garments back and forth across the Atlantic for fitting! On a trip to London when I was 15, she let me pick out fabrics in Liberty, and then made them into a tiered skirt in the boho style that was all the rage around the millennium; a garment I adored at the time, and still wear.

is it just me or was the print quality on Liberty fabric much better fifteen years ago?
handmade Liberty boho skirt, c.2000

In 2011, I visited Marge at her home in Vermont, and we had a lot of fun rifling through her amazing collection of vintage and handmade things. One of the items she pulled out from a trunk was the silver bridesmaid’s dress she had made in 1981. I can’t remember now if I asked or if she offered, but I came away with that dress, and an idea in my head for exactly what I would do with it. I knew that Lucy would get married one day, and I loved the thought of refashioning the dress Marge had made with such care for her best friend’s wedding into something I could wear when my own best friend (and number one collaborator in all crafting endeavours) walked down the aisle.

Lucy got married in August this year, and so the dress’s fate was to be remade this summer. After an extensive process of inspiration gathering on Pinterest, I bought a gorgeous 1986 vintage Vogue pattern on Etsy.

Original bridesmaid's dress and Vogue pattern 8671
The original dress on me, and the 1980s Vogue pattern. Yes, I should have ironed the dress before taking this picture.

Like Lucy, I learned to embrace the slow pace and careful attention that are required for sewing with silk. For the first time ever, I made a muslin, though I then discovered that correcting fit issues is rather tricky on a dress which has neither side seams nor centre back seam! Being inexpert at fitting, I caused myself problems later by taking out too much length on the shoulder straps at the muslin stage: I had to sew them into the bodice with a tiny ¼” seam allowance, and you can imagine my consternation when, sitting nervously in church during the wedding ceremony, I looked down and found that a corner of the strap had escaped from the seam altogether!

Apart from the pressure of having limited fabric and a very real and important deadline, I enjoyed making this dress, particularly where it involved learning new techniques – like using silk organza as interlining (finally I understand why Gertie does that so often!) and making bound buttonholes. It was also a pleasure to wear; the silk is of a very pleasing character, closely woven and drapey, but not too fluid – like a very fine cotton lawn but with that characteristic silk-y hand which feels so gorgeous fluttering round one’s knees in a full skirt.

The slow process of its making gave me plenty of time to mull over the new connections the dress was creating between some of the dearest and most important people in my life: my mother, my godmother, my best friend. As Lucy and I were sharing the experience of couture-style sewing for the first time, and living the excitement of the run-up to her wedding, I thought about my mother and Marge as they made their dresses back in 1981; I wondered how they had found sewing with the same silk I had in my hands, and what the run-up to that wedding had been like. Refashioning felt like having a conversation across time – and it also led to some conversations in the present, about which hopefully I’ll share more in another post.

For now, here’s the finished dress. These photos were taken recently – there are hardly any from the wedding itself, when I was too busy having fun! If you do want to see some pictures of the day and its myriad delightful handmade touches, I suggest you pop over to Instagram and browse the #clerkenwed hashtag.

Refashioned grey silk 1980s bridesmaid dress.