Denim Braided Rug

This one’s been going for a while. I started the version I pulled apart to start this one a year ago, and started this one a month or so after. The slowness has been deliberate – it’s a soothing project to do when I don’t have brain energy so I’ve been saving it for those moments. Recently I had a nagging stomach virus thing, and on a day of distractingly noisy plumbers working in the laundry (which is opposite my office), I had only the mental capacity to stand and braid.

A few hours later it was done. I gave it a quick rinse and spin in the washing machine, and when it was dry laid it out on the kitchen floor.

Pretty happy with that. It’s nice and cushy under the feet, and matches my woven denim rag rugs. Amazing what you can make out of some old jeans!

Tapestry Tangle

An idea for a Bargello project has been floating around in my head for a while, but to do it I’ll need lots of colours of tapestry thread. A while back I jumped onto eBay and bought two large batches of leftover thread. And when I say large, I’m not kidding. This is what the two looked like spread over my eight-seater dining table, after I’d untangled the bigger of the two batches.

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In fact, the largest batch arrived on a day when I hadn’t slept well, felt very crappy and sorting out the contents was just the sort of meditative task I needed. It was a huge tangled bag of mostly tapestry thread but also crewel yarn, perle cotton and stranded cotton. Some was precut into lengths, some precut and clearly from kits, some still in skeins with labels and some not, and lots of lengths from several meters to a cm long. There was even a few scraps of knitting yarn in there. It was like somebody had thrown someone’s entire collection of embroidery yarn into a bag, including the contents of a bin.

The stranded cottons were all precut lengths with no labels so I added them to my collection. The perle cotton and crewel thread was too, so I tied the cotton together and the thread was knotted onto a metal ring.

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Of the tapestry thread, there were several brands including some very old skeins, of which most had felted. I packed most of the tapestry thread into a basket with the ends showing so I can see all the colours.

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I left out the oldest stuff and a group of unlabelled yarn that appeared to be thinner than the rest. The old, felted yarns I started to weave on my Knitters Loom (more on that soon).

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The thinner I started nalbinding (another post will cover this).

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Tapestry Rescue

Last year Paul needed round frames for his Batchelor of Photography project. The only ones he could find were frames for clocks or old embroideries. I put the de-framed embroideries aside, thinking that I’d repurpose them.

Recently I took them out and considered what I could make out of them. We already have more than enough art, prints, clocks and whacky stuff on our walls. Pillows seemed the obvious answer for the four matching outback Australia scenes.

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If I simply added a back to them to make circular pillows, they’d be a bit small, so I decided to insert them into squares. Rather than try to sew a seam around the ‘hole’ they’d go into, I bought felt, which wouldn’t fray therefore wouldn’t need a seam.

That leaves me with one last round tapestry, this time with a more ‘English’ colour scheme. I’m thinking of trimming top and bottom and making a clutch.

What would you do with old circular tapestries?

It’s a Bar. It’s an Organ. Barorgan.

I suspect one of the defining elements of my relationship with Paul is that he finds junk to buy and I find something to do with it. When he was doing his Batchelor of Photography last year he bought a whole lot of stuff on eBay that might work with his alternative Australia steampunk theme. Like an old typewriter and sewing machine.

He didn’t mention the organ. I have no idea how he got it home and buried in the new garage without me noticing. I spotted it a month or two ago and after sighing and shaking my head at the discovery an idea came to me. I’d been not-seriously looking at second hand bars for sale on eBay. Some of them had been made from repurposed objects. Could we turn this organ into a bar?

Some brainstorming followed, then a satisfying bout of dismantling, then more brainstorming, then buying and cutting of mdf, a bit of painting and varnishing, hinges added, glass ordered, led lights attached… and we have this:

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It was surprisingly easy to modify the organ. A minimal amount of alternation to the outer framework was done. Only the flap that covers the keys and central fill of the lower part of the back were removed. Most of the innards are gone. The hidden ends of the keys were cut off to make more room inside. The visible part was lowered then we had glass cut to cover them. Paul added a strip of coloured led lights that reflect nicely in the glass.

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The back has become the preparation area, with the fold down access flap becoming a preparation shelf. The lower area is open and empty right now, but we’ve bought wood to turn into sliding doors because and it’ll become the storage space for spirits and mixers.

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I’ve seen quite a few piano or organ to bar conversions on Google since we made ours, but none that were designed for a bartender to stand behind it. I figure we need to have a bar warming party.

But first I may need to weave some bar mats.

Craft Swap

A few weeks back a friend hosted a craft swap and afternoon tea. Well, it was more of a craft rehoming, because the idea is you bring along materials you don’t want any more, place it on a table and people take home what takes their fancy.

I had put a couple of things aside, but hadn’t had time to gather a decent amount of stuff for it by the day. So I decided to spend the morning going through all my craft and art supplies. I wound up culling with rather a lot.

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At the swap people were peeking shyly into bags, so I started putting each on the table, unpacking, showing the contents to all and asking who wanted it. This seemed to work, and we found homes for about 80% of the stuff. One participant knew of an organisation that takes craft supplies for kids, so we filled a bag for that. Others had friends who would take materials for hobbies none of us practised. (I brought home some mini fruit decorations for a friend who makes hats.)

At the end of the day I’d found homes for lots of stuff I didn’t want any more, too, so I was very happy overall. I had one shopping bag of things nobody wanted and another of things I’d adopted. The incoming craft items included an old sewing box, lots of jewellery charms and findings, some embroidery hoops and thread, and a few pieces of fabric.

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In fact, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and come away with something new, so I think I might host one of these craft swaps in future.

Scaling Up

Christmas to New Year is usually the time I go through my whole wardrobe and cull things. This year I couldn’t be bothered looking over it all, so I just did my knitwear. I decided to cull four items. Two I unravelled, one went to a friend and the other to the op shop.

That gave me a batch of 12ply/bulky yarn, and two batches of 8ply/dk. I liked the idea of weaving the 12ply with itself to make a blanket, but I didn’t want to occupy the floor loom with a plain weave project when I could do more interesting 4-shaft ones. I wasn’t sure the thick yarn would go through the heddles or reed anyway. Weaving strips on the knitters loom and sewing them together didn’t appeal, and it was too thick for the pin looms I have.

Well, there was a way to get around that last problem:

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Paul made the frame, I put in the nails and a tac to anchor the starting thread. Once my new pin loom was finished, I got weaving. The longest needle from my bought looms is a touch too short, so I use a darning needle and work my way across.

Soon I had a few squares to block:

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It makes a slightly open, drapey fabric. I scaled up by the same difference that 12ply is to 8ply. But since 8ply yarn on the pin loom I scaled up weaves a little loose, it’s no surprise the 12ply does too. It’s not too open, though.

The up side is I could weave thicker yarn on it. Or weave with 10ply doubled, or 8ply tripled. Which would be a great way to quickly use up yarn.

The only problem I’m having is that using a darning needle means I need to rest the loom on my lap, which I can’t do if the cat is there. So the weaving of squares has been a bit slow – especially with the unseasonably cold weather we’ve had lately.

Yet Another Kind of Weaving

When I was a child my mother added basket-making to the seemingly endless list of crafts she had tried. My Dad took one of her cute garlic baskets to work and came home with an order for 99 of them. By the end Mum’s hands were a painful mess and the gloss had thoroughly worn off basketry as a hobby.

It was the first warning I had not to turn hobbies into work. Not that I listened, having worked as an illustrator and now earning a living as a writer.

When I saw that the Handweavers and Spinners Guild had a one-day basketry class in their summer school schedule, I decided to sign up. I’ve been a bit wary of cane basketry, because I’ve heard it’s a bit hard on the hands. But these were coiled baskets, which involves stitching materials into place not wrestling them into a weave. I like the idea that I could use plant materials from the garden rather than much harder cane.

Well, it was great fun. We started with polymer clay bases, as starting is the hardest and slowest part. We used cordyline (cabbage tree) leaves, which I have the red version of in the garden, and stitched it all together with waxed linen thread.

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I finished it by leaving some leaves sprouting from the rim, adding another bunch and sewed around to the opposite side before finishing off, leaving another tuft of leaves.

You can use this method with other long, flexible materials, like rags and rope. I have a pile of old garden hoses. I’m thinking of using a plant pot drip tray as the base, and sewing it all together with wire or heavy plastic twine.

But I do love the idea of using plants from the garden. I’ve already got some of the recommended plants growing here: cordyline, lomandra longifolia, dianella, lavender and aram lily. I already planned to grow red hot poker. Maybe I can find a place for New Zealand flax and canna lilies as well.

Thoughts on Fibre

While my main aim for weaving this year is to try new structures, I have a secondary aim in mind. It has come out of a collision between my fibre allergies and interest in ethical textiles.

I’d like to weave fabric in order to make garments from non-wool, ethical fibres.

Why non-wool? It seems like I’m growing more sensitive to it. This really annoys me, as I love wool*. It’s easy to spin, scores well on ethical issues when it’s processed locally and is wonderfully warm. I’ve managed to wear so far it by donning thick, high-necked long-sleeve cotton tops beneath. Fortunately my hands and feet are free from irritation. I think I’d cry if I had to throw away all my hand knit socks.

Why ethical fibres? Last autumn I set out to buy cotton substitutes to wool jumpers and my shock at how hard it was to find anything that wasn’t acrylic propelled me into reading up on ethical textile issues. Since then I’ve aimed to make most of my clothing purchases ethical and to avoid buying new clothes as much as possible, which has been surprisingly easy.

Why garments? Last year the Guild hosted a talk about Fibreshed and 1year1outfit – a challenge to make clothing entirely from materials sourced within your local area. I was inspired, but with no non-animal fibre products available in my Fibreshed, and after spinning silk hankies gave me hand pain, I abandoned the idea of being able to participate. But I can buy ethical fibre from further away, and I like the idea of making clothing from fabric I wove.

The question of fibre sensitivity hovers over everything I weave or machine knit now. I still have heaps of wool knitting yarn in my stash. Now that I’m weaving fine cotton with confidence, a part of me wonders if all that wool knitting yarn is a waste of stash space. Of course, I can use the wool to make gifts, but to be honest, I don’t have people to weave for and I usually end up giving what I can’t wear to the op shop.

A few years ago I realised my stash was becoming more of a weavers stash than a knitters stash. Now maybe it needs to become more of an ethical, non-wool stash.

*I’m still not 100% sure about alpaca. Sometimes it’s made me itch, other times not.

Stash Portrait 2016-2017

Recent thoughts about where I want to go with weaving, and my fibre allergies led to a bit of a stash assessment. So I laid out all the yarn on the office floor and took a picture:

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(Wool yarns are marked in red, cotton in yellow, and everything else or yarns I’m not sure of the fibre are in orange.)

A sort was in order. I moved cones to the larger boxes and divided everything into wool and non-wool. All non-wool, non-acrylic yarns had instant keeper status. With those put aside, I considered which wool yarns to keep or cull. Sock yarns are keepers, since my feet don’t get irritated by wool. Recent handspun stays, too. The Bendigo Classic 2 & 3 ply does weave up into a nice blanket and makes good warp yarn, so I’ll retain that.

The rest I sorted by softness. The Tonne of Wool Cormo is the softest, Bendigo Luxury next, Cleckheaton Country and Paton’s Inca next, and the rest became one batch of ‘least soft’ yarn. From that I culled the Bendigo Serenade, Patons Shadow Tweed, Lincraft Cosy Wool, a cone of fine boucle and the metallic yarns I hated weaving with earlier this year.

I also culled my knitwear, removing two vests I don’t wear, a cardigan and a jacket. The jackets were unravelled. The yarn I got from them is wool, but I have plans to turn it into pin loom blankets. Since one is a bulky yarn, I’m currently making a pin loom 150% the size of the one I have, so the nails are spaced wider apart and I get bigger squares.

The stash doesn’t all fit into the boxes, but with the wool yarns hanging about in the way rather than the cone yarns, I’ve got more of an incentive to either use them up or cull them.

The Land Scaped

A few months back I sat down with Paul to work out if we could get the kitchen garden done before Spring. We figured we could, so I called the landscapers to quote on the structural work. We’ve had these guys in four times before, so they know this place well. When they found out that the concreter kept making dates to do the crossovers for the garage then not turning up, they offered to quote for that as well.

The quote was very reasonable, so we gave up on the concreter and got both jobs done. However, there was a lot of work to do clearing out the kitchen garden. Pots and garden beds to move, the temporary cat run to dismantle and fake turf to remove.

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One of the lingering structural problems we had was that this area still got boggy in winter. I decided that the wettest area may as well become a garden bed, so I got them to bring the rock edge (which I hadn’t finished building) out further from the retaining wall.

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We were going to have toppings in the flat area, but they suggested gravel instead, as it would drain better. When they were done, Paul constructed the new cat run, recycling old tennis court poles. I’ve been helping put the cat mesh on. It’s looking great and the cat now has three of the pine garden beds to poo in.

As this work was being done, we got chatting with the landscapers about our long-term plans. We didn’t yet have a driveway. The original idea was to do a concrete one, but we’d have to wait until the water company puts in sewerage – and at the rate that’s happening, it could be years. The cost of the slab for the garage had eaten into our budget considerably, too.

So we got the landscapers to put in a topping driveway and finish the garden bed at the corner. It gives us something to drive on to access the garage, but part of it will be dug up again when we connect to the sewerage.

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I wanted to plant a tree in the garden bed, to replace one I’d had to cut down, but didn’t want anything that would shade the house. So I bought a weeping cherry.

Turns out there is a lot of water in the ground around under the driveway, so in places it’s quite spongey. The landscapers think that the stormwater pipes might be blocked further down the slope, so when we get a lot of rain they slowly fill up and the water finds it’s way out in front of the house. We’ll probably have to replace the stormwater pipes, but since having trenches dug is expensive it’ll have to wait until the sewerage connection happens.

Lastly, we wound up with this garden bed along the garage as a way to deal with water run off. The front is all gravel, but I had the rest filled with a mix of sand, gravel and potting mix and mulched with stones. It has become the Unexpected Succulent Bed.

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That’s all the major, structural landscaping done now. Hopefully from now on there’ll only be small jobs to do, that we can tackle ourselves – though there’s enough of those on my to-do list already to keep us busy for years!