Handspun, Handwoven Scarves

Oldest yarns plus handspun plus twill with tabby were the inspirations for these scarves. The draft are Strickler #263 and #265, both using a corkscrew twill threading and tie-up.

The first, #263, was slow to weave and it was easy to make a mistake. It required three shuttles: one for the handspun pattern yarn, one for the thin black tabby binder, and one for stripes of the same black yarn I used for the warp.

It reminds me of the tracks of tyres, or some kind of ancient writing.

#265 was a much faster point twill treadling, using two shuttles: one for the handspun and another for the tabby binder. They pattern looks like dramatic bow ties.

They turned out very well, and I will definitely be more confident in designing weaving projects using handspun now.

Trying Different Hats

Normally, I try not to even think of the ‘C’ word until the beginning of December, unless I know I need to order a present early. This year I’ve put that rule aside for three reasons:

Firstly, I’m sick of ordering online. While I understand and empathise with Aussie Post for the delays, it’s one more thing to worry about. And the delays are only part of the problem with ordering online. Recently some items I ordered hadn’t arrived so I tried contacting the shop, but they didn’t reply to messages left via email, their answering machine, their website’s contact form or their Facebook page. It took a couple of weeks to finally get through on the phone, only to find out the items had always been out of stock and help up by international shipping issues. If I’d known they were out of stock I wouldn’t have ordered the items. Two and a half months later they still haven’t arrived, but the shop is the only one in the country selling them so I really don’t want to cancel my order.

The second reason is I don’t much fancy shopping in person, either. When lockdown ends there’s going to be a rush on shops, and things will sell out, and since we’re supposed to be transitioning to ‘living with Covid’ (which will no doubt mean ‘dying with Covid’ for a number of people) and I doubt the vaccine passport idea is going to go smoothly, I’m intending to stay away from strangers as much as possible.

The third reason is because my solution to the above is to make most of my gifts, and that takes time and planning.

On the up side, I have a very short recipient list. On the down side, it includes two men who aren’t easy to pick something for even when not choosing hand made.

One of the ideas I had for gifts was to sew hats. I found a free bucket hat online and gave it a try. Aside from me misreading the interlining pattern pieces as lining and having to unpick them then cut and sew a new lining, the construction was problem free and it fits perfectly.

The outer fabric is denim and the inner a navy cotton with tiny flowers in red, green, yellow, blue and white. Both came from destashes.

I also have a sunhat pattern I’ve been wanting to try for ages, so I gave that a whirl. The main fabric is a white corduroy printed with green and black parrots from an old, stained dress of Late Lucy’s. The lining is a white cotton bed sheet.

This was a bit of a faff to construct, with lots of stay stitching and a seemingly unnecessary bit of gathering thread to ease the side piece to the top, but there is a nice bit of theatre when you turn what looks like a clump of fabric inside out and it turns into a hat. It fits and I like it.

Still, it’s not really Mum’s style and definitely not Dad’s, so I stuck with the bucket hat.

Mum’s uses some offcuts of fabric from a dress she made years ago and more of the white cotton sheet for the lining, and Dad’s uses the same denim I used on my bucket hat with a lovely soft red cotton plaid for the lining.

All the hats have used destashed or repurposed fabric, so I’m pretty chuffed about that. I’ve offered to make one for Paul, but I’ll have to enlarge the pattern. If I made it with the black denim in the stash it would be easy to tell which hat was his and which was mine, and I have a black and grey plaid shirt that would work for lining. Hmm.

Recovery

Recently I was watching a video in which an artist talked about burnout and I realised she was describing how I’d felt in the last few years toward my work. I’d assumed that back pain was the cause of my lack of enthusiasm – after all, it’s hard to be keen about doing something that hurts – and I hadn’t considered there might be more to it. Acknowledging the burnout felt right, like finding the piece of a puzzle. And because it’s hard to recover from something if you don’t know you have it.

Deciding that this was the year of being flexible and avoiding commitments was a good idea, in retrospect, but it’s been frustrating as well as beneficial. While it’s been less stressful, the break has confirmed that I do need an aim or challenge to work toward. But I needed time to consider what I wanted to do, and what I am capable of now.

Looking back, I’ve always maintained three passions in my life: writing, art and craft. I’ve turned two of them into work, as a designer for four years, a self-employed illustrator and designer for nine, and a writer for twenty…

… and as I typed that last paragraph, I remembered that I was seriously burnt out as an artist by the time I wound up the illustration business. It took time and taking up a new medium (oils) to recover my love for art. Maybe that’s what I’ll need to recover my enthusiasm for writing.

I’m in no hurry to get writing again, though I am feeling like I’ve recovered some interest. Until I do, I have art and craft to call upon for my aims and challenges. Yet at the same time I’ve been wondering how I can avoid spoiling either by turning them into work. Well, ‘work’ and ‘work at’ are entirely different things. Deadlines, clients and money are involved in the first, but aren’t essential for the latter. What matters for the latter is learning, practising and improving. Becoming good at something can be fulfilling in of itself.

I think that’ll be more than enough for me for now.

Pinwheels Scarf

Some while back when I had a backlog of posts to publish I decided not to post about the 8-shaft weaving certificate course samplers. I am having fun and learning heaps, and maybe at some point I’ll do a catch-up post.

I’m also toying with the idea of weaving an item in some, if not all, of the structures we explore. The first was twill, which I’ve woven plenty of times but I’ve never made anything that utilised a tabby binder. At the last Guild meeting of weavers on Zoom the subject discussed was weaving with handspun. Some of the oldest yarns in my stash are handspun, and I’ve been wanting to use up older yarn. Somehow the three ideas – twill, handspun and using older yarn – came together, and after the usual planning I got stuck into winding the warp for two scarves using a corkscrew twill in Strickler that looks a bit like tyre treads.

Before I could get that on the Lotas, however, I needed the loom for a class sampler. The colour-and-weave sampler was meant to be done in the Guild on one of their floor looms, but since we’re in lockdown and I have the same type of floor loom, I offered to be ‘one less student to worry about’ and do it at home.

The sampler was meant to be 50cm long, and since the loom waste is 50cm, it made economical sense to increase the length to the warp and make a scarf. Though I tried a whole lot of fun varieties of colour-and-weave and designed my own, none jumped out and said “do me for the scarf”. It was a project for pinwheel towels in Handwoven I found while researching colour-and-weave that caught my attention. I decided my scarf would be made up of 20cm sections of all eight pinwheel versions – or seven if I didn’t have enough warp.

It turned out to be quite addictive and fast to weave, but I had to make myself not weave the entire thing in one sitting and cause a back flare-up. As I suspected, I only had enough warp for seven of the pinwheel designs, but that’s fine. Odd numbers often look better than even, anyway.

One of my favourites for the year, I reckon.

Sewing the Good Stash

All this stretch garment sewing began a few years ago when I bought two fabric remnants, a black jersey with flowers and a navy and white striped knit. The striped fabric was meant to be the test fabric for the leggings I was going to make from the floral.

A few years, various hesitations and much fabric and sewing machine buying later, I have finally sewn that floral fabric.

When the fabric arrived it proved to be a bit thin for leggings, so I figured I’d make a long-sleeved top or skivvy. Of course, laying out the pattern pieces required care to ensure I didn’t wind up with big flowers in unfortunate locations, but I managed it without too much fuss. However, what I found then was that even if I’d plonked the pieces down in the most space efficient way, I’d still wouldn’t have fit in both sleeves.

That left me with a choice. Either I have 3/4 length sleeves, which I hate, or cut outs at the shoulder. So I went with the latter.

Expecting disappointment, I have tried using the cover stitch machine again with varying results. Sewing two layers seems okay, but it wouldn’t stop dropping stitches when I attempted two layers either side of waistband elastic on a pair of leggings. After I’d exhausted the setting adjustment options in the manual, I tried pulling the thread out of the lefthand needle, which is the side that always fails, and just sewing with two, and you know what? It worked!

Obviously, it’s not okay for a brand new machine to not sew as it’s supposed to, but the internet tells me it’s a common problem and most likely operator error. Still, I will be checking the guarantee to see how long I have to work out the source of the problem.

Spring Inspiration Scarves

While weaving the chenille scarves, I got to thinking more about using up more old or unusual yarns in my stash. When I had searched for something to use up the white warp I had tried weaving some slubby white cotton, but decided an all white scarf didn’t appeal. Could I use up that yarn next? I wasn’t feeling energetic enough to dye the cotton, but what if I wove it with a coloured warp?

Looking at my collection of 8/2 cotton, I chose three that were around the same value. The combo looked very Spring to me. I also had two balls of slightly thicker slubby cotton in a teal, so I wound enough warp for two scarves.

I chose a draft in Strickler (#102) that produced flower shapes, reproduced it in Fibreworks ao I could play with colour placement, and altered it to eliminate a long float.

The white wove up really well:

The teal is okay. You have to look closely to see the flowers. But it is cushy and soft.

I have enough slubby cotton in another brand to weave several more scarves, but after joining the Guild’s weaving group Zoom meeting on weaving with handspun, I was inspired to do that instead. The two balls I picked are also some of the ‘oldest’ yarns in my stash, and the warp yarn was probably a few years old when I picked it up at a destash.

None of these old yarns are particularly ancient, mind. They’re just the oldest in my stash. But I wouldn’t want them to end up so ancient that whatever I made out of them wouldn’t last long, which is a good motivation to weave yarns I’ve been intimidated by or not sure what to do with.

Newness

For my first garment on the new machines, I decided to make a top out of the striped jersey I’d bought as a test fabric way back when. Since it was supposed to be sacrificial, I decided to also trial changing the skivvy pattern to a top with a scoop neckline.

Referring to a top from my wardrobe, I sketched out the new neckline and made a template for cutting out more fabric rather than cutting into the pattern.

I didn’t do this for the pattern back, which would come back to bite me later, I just trimmed a bit off the back piece after I’d cut it out. Then I got down to sewing.

To get around not having enough cones of thread in the colours I needed (because my old overlocker only takes three) I used black for one thread, which isn’t noticeable. One day, when lockdown is over, I’ll buy not just an extra cone of navy and grey, but an extra five so I don’t have to rethread the overlocker and coverstitch machine at least twice for each project.

(I did try to order more navy and grey cones, but couldn’t find any shops selling the brand and shade of navy I have, and I really need to match the grey in person. Which was probably a good thing, since there was also a big delay in the postal service thanks to Covid exposures and a surge of online orders.)

Some sewing later, I had a new top:

Which went well apart from two things:

First, the coverstitch machine is SO finicky! I went through all of the offcuts of the fabric test sewing, each time adjusting the various settings until the machine stopped skipping stitches. And yet when I came to sewing the actual hems… skipped stitches. Watching videos online helped a bit, but even when I finally got it to work and managed to sew the wrist and bottom hems successfully on this top, the machine then could not handle the neckline. I gave up after unpicking it several times and returned to using a double needle on the sewing machined.

Second, I really should have done more than snip a little bit off the back neckline. It stuck out so far that when I pinched it in to fit snugly, I found it was about 6cm too big. By then I was so over unpicking that neckline that I waited several days before taking a deep breath and redoing it. Fortunately, I only had to unpick the back, trim the back neckline and resew it, and then it was fixed.

I’m not sure what to make of the coverstitch machine. The fabric I used was thin, slippery, and had a very fine and grippy knit structure, so maybe that was the problem. I need to try other fabrics before making any conclusions about it. It’s a whole new thing, so naturally it’s going to take practise and experience to feel confident with using it.

But I am very happy with the sewing machine and overlocker, and keen to tackle the next project.

Chenille Scarves

When the Venne scarves came off the loom I wasn’t sure what to weave next. I have a few linen projects I’d like to weave, but the heating here is very drying so I’m waiting until spring. I’m not ready to weave another rug yet. I also didn’t want to tackle anything mentally challenging when I was about to launch into the 8-shaft course.

Opening my stash spreadsheet, I looked at the oldest yarns there and found a few potential sparks of inspiration. Maybe I could weave up some of the small batches of interesting yarn I’d been procrastinating over for years. Taking out whatever appealed, I wound up with three batches of indigo blue and white yarn – clearly something about the colour was attracting me. I chose the chenille that was ikat dyed in one of Kay Faulkner’s workshops.

I’ve woven this yarn (undyed) into a scarf before, using it as both warp and weft on a rigid heddle loom. It was hard to beat and the warp was a twisty nightmare, and the scarf came out a little stiff. Then I tried dip dyeing in indigo later, didn’t like the look and dip dyed the white end… and hated the result.

A different approach was needed. I’d seen chenille woven as weft on a 8/2 cotton warp in a project before, so based the sett and structure on that. I chose a simple 4-shaft 2×2 point twill with a straight treadling on a blue warp, which was easy to warp and fast to weave. When the scarf came off the loom it had the perfect drape for such a cushy yarn.

However, I had only used up one of the two balls of chenille. I decided to weave another scarf using a white warp. But then I thought… just one scarf? Wouldn’t it be more economical to warp up for two scarves? But what to use for weft on that second scarf? I could try unweaving that stiff chenille and use the weft to make a new one. Or, if that didn’t work, there was plenty of white slubby cotton in my stash that I could weave – and perhaps dye.

The second chenille scarf is much busier, because the white weft makes the twill more obvious and breaks up the blue.

In the meantime, I tried to unweave the old chenille scarf. It turns out chenille locks in pretty determinedly when woven with itself. I abandoned the task went looking for another yarn to use, but something about the unwoven chenille, which had a speckle effect thanks to being tightly woven then overdyed, kept calling me back to the old scarf. So I gave unweaving another try and found if I trimmed off the warp every 2 cm it was not so laborious that I wasn’t prepared to do it, over a couple of days.

Turns out I was right. It did weave up nicely. This time I wove point twill, which gave it a kind of flowery feel. However, it barely wove up to a cowl length. I added a bit of denim at either end and buttons to make it easily removable.

Which left quite a bit of warp on the loom. Not enough for a scarf, possibly too little for a cowl, but too much to just cut off and ‘waste’. This was an opportunity to play, I decided. I then played around in Fibreworks until I had a pattern I liked, and decided to weave it in black.

I’m thinking maybe fabric for a small bag.

Lengthening

I made this vest/top back in 2006:

The yarn is a particularly soft and luscious cotton. I had just enough to make the vest. My, er, assets were a size smaller back then, and the bottom of the ribbing was at about waist height.

Time passes. Bodies change. The vest has been too short for a while now, and while I can wear it with something beneath, generally I don’t wear fests unless I need warmth, and then I don’t want a chilly gap around my waist.

I haven’t knitted beyond finishing machine knitted garments and the occasional accessory for (yikes!) ten years. A while back I bought some cotton from the Great Ocean Road Woolen Mill that had the same softness, and it occurred to me later that I could use it to lengthen the vest. Recently I finally got around to it.

The process was slow and laborious. I put in a thread just above the ribbing, then one several rows below to reduce the band width, cut and unravelled the yarn. Then I slowly knitted the simple pattern bands. I only dared to knit a few rows at a time, every two or three days, in case my rsi flared up. Even so, my back was not happy with me looking down so much.

After several weeks I had the pattern section complete. I needed to unravel a bit more of the body to end the pattern in a balanced way. Then halfway through Kitchenering the top to the bottom I discovered that there were increases in the extra section I’d unravelled, so I had to pull the stitches out and add the increases before restarting the joining.

So when I finally finished, I was very relieved that the vest still fit, and the ribbing meets the waistband of my jeans and skirts.

Fidget vs Focus

The sewing I’ve done this year has been different to the occasional bunches of projects over the last decade. I’ve taught myself how to sew stretch fabric, done some challenging refashions and sewn more handwoven fabric than ever before.

My aim had been to have well made clothes from organic cloth, but the long-term benefit of that has been getting my sewing mojo back. You see, when I was in my 20s sewing was my main hobby, but I pushed myself too hard and wound up hating and avoiding it. Then in my late 30s I discovered refashioning, which was a great way to get back into sewing because it isn’t making a garment from scratch so there’s often a lot of construction already done.

This renewed enthusiasm is a much quieter thing than the obsession I had as a young sewer. Recently, I judged it enough to upgrade my machines. My Jenome is great, but it isn’t strong enough to sew many layers of fabric. My overlocker is good, but it has only three threads so only sews the edge, not the seam. I’ve also found that the stretch seams sewn with a double needle on the sewing machine keep breaking, and I concluded that the only way to get the quality I want is to use a coverstitch machine.

Of course, being locked down meant ordering without trying, so I did my research and aimed for robust machines. Which meant heavy machines I don’t want to be hauling out of the cupboard when I use them. To set them up permanently, some shuffling of the craft room furniture was required. Which led to a review of all the crafts I do, whether new, current and old.

That inevitably turned my attention to the Passap knitting machine. I searched for the email from the seller and was shocked to discover I’d bought it nearly ten years ago. I probably only used it regularly for the first year. The main reason I bought it was to make socks, of which I made a few then stopped because I already had so many socks.

I’ve used the Bond over and over, and it can be packed away into its carrier, so it’s well worth keeping. But I think the Passap has to go. Ironically, it’s home isn’t in the craft room, so selling it has no bearing on the furniture shuffling except to empty the cupboard of the magazines and parts that came with it.

Of course, selling it will have to wait until after lockdown ends. Even if I found someone willing to hire a courier, I can’t get out to collect the packaging needed.