Raffia Revamp

Waaaaay back in my 20s I did a two day short course on raffia hatmaking. I remember the first class was all about the braiding, with the teacher constantly urging us to “weave tighter!”. She told us to keep braiding our stash of raffia at home, and the next week we used hat forms to sew the braids into hat shapes.

I particularly remember I wound up with double the amount of braid than I needed and very sore hands.

So after my hands had healed I decided to see if I could make another hat. Since I didn’t have a hat form I made a boater-style hat – straight sided so no need to get the dome shape right. It came out a bit tight, unfortunately, so I figured I’d give it away.

It never found a head that fit and wanted it. The hat from the class did fit and I wore it quite a bit. But recently I put it on and realised it had shrunk. So I decided to unpick and resew the braid a bit looser, and completely resew the boater hat.

Then followed a long, boring and fruitless search for suitable raffia. In the end I gave up and used some waxed linen thread I’d bought for coiled baskets. It worked fine.

First I tackled the braid from the boater hat. It took a lot of unsewing and resewing, but eventually I got a shape I liked that fit. Then I unpicked the braid of the class hat back to a row before the brim and resewed it a little looser, reusing the raffia it had been originally stitched with. I ran the raffia across some beeswax I used to use for bookbinding thread, and that made it much easier to stitch with.

They’re not as tightly sewn as they were the first time, but I figure the few gaps are air-conditioning. I should get plenty more wear out of the class hat, and I love the shape of the new one, so it’s finally going to get some use.

I have to say, though. I’d be happy if another 20 years passed before I made another raffia hat.

Soft Macrame Owl

A few weeks back I saw this in an opshop, hiding under some shelving.

I couldn’t leave it there, lonely and unappreciated. And unfinished. The yarn was wonderfully soft, too. The plant hanger projects weren’t there, but the owl was. Someone had made a start, attaching the yarn to the top rod and doing the first few rows of knots. Some of the pieces were missing: the bottom rod, and one ring and bead for the eyes, but they were easily replaced from my box of macrame supplies.

It was the perfect project to do on a Craft Day I held recently. Amusing and nostalgic, as well as simple enough to do while chatting to crafty friends. I was surprised at how long it took, keeping me occupied the whole afternoon. I had knotted the wings and did a few rows of the body when we wound up for the day.

I finished it over over a few tv watching sessions.

The claws aren’t quite as instructed. I was supposed to glue the ends together and shape them into curved talons. Glue just didn’t seem right, so I wove the ends back into the knots.

Now I have to figure out what to do with the offcuts.

Inclusions in weaving? A stitched bowl? A tiny mop?

A Day on the Tiles

When I was planning the laundry renovation, the thought of cutting ordinary tiles to fit the taps and power point was intimidating. I’d heard stories of people using up dozens of tiles in the attempt. It occurred to me that if I used sheets of little square mosaic tiles then all I’d have to do was remove the ones where the obstructions were.

Or I could do a mosaic! I’ve always wanted to try mosaic-making.

But I suspected doing a mosaic that size would be like trying to waltz before you learned to walk. I bought a little kit at Bunnings, then I found a mosaic class being run just a few weeks later, so I signed up – and persuaded a friend, Liz, to come with me.

I had the BEST time. It quickly became obvious that my suspicion was right: tiling the laundry with a mosaic was waaaay too big a job to launch into any time soon. The piece I made was only about 30 x 30 cm and it took me over seven hours to complete. I’d taken some photos of kookaburras that Paul took, drew a design from one and did it in glass:

Everyone in the class did vastly different pieces, using glass, ceramic tiles, broken crockery, broken glass, and making artwork, covering a bird bath, a pot and a clock face. I was so inspired by the time I was done that I bought some tools and materials ready to launch into a half dozen projects I was already itching to try.

However, I haven’t started any yet. I’ve found that every project has one or two materials that are difficult to find. Either it’s the substrate or glass colours to match the kookaburra, or a mould to test an idea for a mosaic made out of slate.

But I did get around to doing the kit from Bunnings. I thought the design they instruct you to do was a bit kidsy…

… so I mixed up the tiles and laid them in a different pattern, and grouted with black.

Much better!

Just last week I finally found a source of Marmox, the board we used in the class. It’s lightweight and waterproof, so good for wall hung art for outdoors. I’m planning to make a big clock. Now I just need to find a large clock mechanism…

Ball & Change

For the first two to three months of last year I had to stay off my feet thanks to a bout of plantar faciitis. Fortunately it settled down enough that I was able to move house in the second half of the year with no new flare up. However, the sprained ankle has stirred up the plantar facia again, because when I was limping more force went into the non-sprained side, which was the most prone to pf.

I’m off overseas again soon, and my old multi-purpose mary janes aren’t going to cut it. I needed shoes that were not just going be robust, able to be worn with a skirt, nice enough for an evening out and taken off quickly at airport security gates, but they had to be supportive and impact-absorbing. I went to Gilmores, a local shoe specialist for people with problem feet, and the only shoe that came close to filling my requirements were, well, not exactly pretty.


Paul calls them ‘old lady shoes’. I think they’re just boring.

This moccasin style of shoe usually has a few more features. A buckle or bow across the top. A thin leather cord tied at the middle. A bit of leather fringe. Heck, I’ve seen them in a street fashion photo with fur and a chain. Looking at the website of the shoes’ brand, there are plenty with these embellishments, but perhaps only this one had the extra-good-for-plantar-faciitis internal structure.

Still, this did mean I ought to be able to decorate my shoes without it looking odd.

What to do, though? I experimented with all of the above, cutting up bits of leather and experimenting with buckles and cord. I realised that if I could somehow attach some loops to either side of the shoe I might be able to switch around embellishments as I pleased.

So I got stitching. A bit of black leather and waxed thread later I had the loops on.


After applying a bit of boot polish to make sure they blended in with the rest of the shoe, I considered all my decorations and settled on the simplest: a chain.


I figure if I get the time between now and leaving, I’ll make some more embellishments. Maybe some black bows. And I rather fancy a strip of leather with studs in it. Hmm.

Short & Sweet

Over January I did slip in a couple of very quick crafty projects. The sort that take less than an hour. So quick I forgot to blog about them.

These bracelets, following the little tutorial over on Honestly WTF:

Then another inspired by a different tutorial at the same blog:

And then I dug out these shoes, which I vaguely remember buying while on holiday after getting blisters on my heels from the shoes I took with me. I always found them rather boring and ‘beige’.

Some acrylic paint, a leaf-shaped cutter and some address labels later, they weren’t so boring any more.

I also tried solar dyeing with flowers from our flame tree, but all they did was make the cloth slightly pinker.

Some Beads, Some Wire, Some Chains

A few weeks back I had a sudden itch to make – and remake – some jewellery. After refashioning a few pieces from old ones, I made a few new things from my little box of beads and supplies:

Early last year I bought some discounted bundles of glass beads from an art store in Canberra. They were a bit ‘too much’ all strung together, so I spaced them out with some seed beads. I’m not in love with the result, but I like it enough to wear it. At least until I think of a better idea.

I saw some elaborate necklaces featured on a blog with lots of chains draped between beads. This is much less fancy, but I like the simplicity of it and have worn it out twice already. It incorporates a glass bead I bought at the craft show last year.

This looks much nicer worn than lying on a flat surface, because the strings of beads hang slightly in front and behind each other. It’s based on a wood and gold necklace I bought cheaply at a dress shop. I had one of those moment when it occurs to you that two things you’ve been keeping separate would look great together. In this case, there’s a lot of black and white fashion about, which I like, so the combination was in my mind when I looked through my beads. The white beads came from a necklace I bought at an op shop, the black ones for another necklace that only ever worked in my head.

It took many, may hours to make it, partly because I used tiger tail on my first attempt and I couldn’t get the lengths of each strand of beads quite right, and then I kept running out of one or other kind of bead. Eventually I strung them separately on plain sewing cotton, then transferred them to beading thread when I was satisfied with the combination of beads and how everything hung together.

Back in the 90s

In among my silk painting supplies I found these little instruction pamphlets on how to tie scarves and wraps:

Oh, the hair! The hats!

The poses! The stylin’!

It reminded me how scarves and wraps were so trendy at the time. Not knitted scarves, however. Knitting was so 80s. I don’t remember seeing all these ways of tying scarves being popular, however. Most people I knew tied them once, loosely at the throat, then tucked the ends into the front of their jacket or coat. My favourite method is to fold the scarf in half, wrap around the neck then tuck the ends through the loop. It had the advantage that it the wind couldn’t blow it off. I don’t remember if it was called anything fancy. I call it The Noose.

What I do miss about silk scarves is that they are so light but so warm. You can stuff one into a coat pocket or a handbag and it doesn’t take up much room. Then if you needed a scarf you could whip it out, wrapping it twice if it was particularly cold. Loosely wrapped too, because the air trapped in the folds will quickly warm up from your body heat.

The 90s are supposed to be ‘back’ and hand made fabric scarves seemed as popular as knitted ones last winter. Perhaps this year I’ll bring my collection of hand painted silk scarves out of hiding.

Silk Dyeing Weekend

On Saturday my friend Margaret hosted another Quilting Day. Well, I think of them as Craft Days since I don’t quilt and a whole range of craftiness takes place at them – and sometimes a lot more conversation and laughs than crafting.

It occurred to me that this might be a good opportunity to work at one of my Projects for 2011 – using up and getting rid of all my silk painting things. So I put out an email seeing if anyone coming along would like to have a go at dyeing a silk scarf, with the lure of taking it home at the end of the day. I had plenty of takers and had lots of fun showing them my quick and dirty way of dyeing silk scarves.

(In my opinion, there are three aspects of silk painting that are too time consuming, expensive or hard to do at home. Firstly there’s the stretchers. I made my own because I couldn’t afford to buy one. Mine held two edges of the cloth in a way that didn’t let you paint them, which didn’t matter at the time because pre-hemmed scarves weren’t on the market yet, but once they were my stretcher was redundant. Secondly, the setting of the dye relied on someone nearby running a steaming service, or doing it at home. Doing it at home always resulted in water getting in, dyes running and crease marks. Thirdly, the hemming took FOREVER. You could carefully pull out threads on the edges of square scarves to make a ‘fringe’, but this took just as long because the silk is so fine, fragile and sticks to itself like spider web.

My method eliminated the first two annoyances. Forget stretchers – I scrunch up the fabric and dab it into dishes of dyes until I’m satisfied with the coverage. The colour combines in a lovely mottled way. Then I leave them to dry scrunched up, and with certain dyes this intensifies the colour on the outside folds because they dry faster. Then I steam them all scrunched up, wrapped loosely in paper towel and tied with string like little dumplings, and then protected from condensation drips within the pressure cooker within a ‘cup’ of aluminium foil, and the flaws created by water getting in and crease marks become part of the textural beauty of the dye.)

By the end of the day all of my pre-hemmed scarves and two ties were dyed, steamed and in the possession of happy crafters. That left one pre-fringed scarf and various scraps of silk. So on Sunday I got to work on my own, dyeing and experimenting all morning and then tending the pressure cooker all afternoon.

I took most of the finished fabric and some of the scarves I’d done the day before to a dinner with interstate and local friends, and found homes for three pieces. That left me with this lot to photograph today:

Experimenting produced some interesting results. The first two of these scraps were left to dry pleated in two different directions, and the third I tried dotting with gutta first to see if I’d get white spots: (I didn’t, because the gutta is water based and just dissolved.)

This one I hung by the middle as it dried, and then steamed it coiled up, which gave it a tie-dye look:

This one was the last I dyed. I tried adding silver and gold gutta to black dye. It didn’t dissolve, but fragmented enough that I got flecks of metallic paint all over the scarf, which I love:

Knowing that I’d run out of silk before I ran out of dye, I also tried dyeing silk yarn. I bought these two skeins at Morris & Sons in Sydney. They were not cheap, so I was rather dismayed to find that, outside the dimly-lit shop, what had been an intense purple was actually a bit paler than I’d thought and getting dangerously close to pink:

I dripped navy dye all over them and popped them in the pressure cooker, and to my relief the dye took:

Which made me very happy, because I have been struggling to think of what to do with this yarn for two years and the only thing stopping me from gifting it to the op shop was that it had cost me $70 for these two small skeins.

I’m also feeling pretty pleased with myself because what had filled this tub:

Now fits into this small shoe box:

Which, along with the pressure cooker, will go in with my yarn/fabric dyes. All the paint brushes, plastic lids and dishes for mixing dye, pipettes for gutta and drop sheets are now stowed with my art stuff.

Which means I can make my first tick against one of my Projects of 2011. Yippee!

Trying Something New

Yarn magazine mainly because it contained a tutorial for making baskets out of scraps of yarn and raffia. I reckon these baskets are made with the same method. I decided to give it a go, using loom ends and some thick acrylic yarn my Mum used to make a hooked rug out of in the 70s.

I didn’t like the method. The main pro was that I could use up loom ends, the main con was that the constant joining in of a new bit of yarn and the sewing was time consuming. I kept thinking that I could probably do this using crochet, with one continuous strand. Then yesterday I saw a book reviewed over at Craft Leftovers that looked like it might be about that sort of thing. As I always do, I ignored the link to Amazon and went looking for it on Fishpond.

It is there, though with a much less appealing cover. I spotted something called Google Preview and discovered that it shows you the first quarter of the book. Unfortunately for the publisher and author, that first quarter contains all of the technical instructions. I only wanted to confirm that the method was the sort of think I was thinking of. Now I don’t need to buy the book at all.


Anyway, I looked at my macrame supplies and there were two thicker kinds of rope that would work well, in natural and black. What to crochet them together with? I grabbed some linen thread from my bookbinding supplies. It was originally purchased for weaving, then turned out to be great bookbinding thread, and now it’s being used for crochet basketry:

I’m really pleased with the result. It’s faster than the sewing method and I like the look and feel of the ‘fabric’ it’s making, which is flexible enough to mould into shape and stiff enough to hold it. I’m not sure what I’ll make this into. A bowl? A matching pair of waste paper baskets for the bedroom? A trivet for the dining table? I can see potential for plenty of projects: table runners and place mats, lidded boxes, carry bags…

And there is so much potential for using other materials. I’m thinking it might look interesting to match the black rope with the leftovers from the Peri Peri Floor Rug:

I could be even more adventurous, and substitute the rope with strips of paper or card, fabric, wire, or even electrical cord. The crochet thread could be any kind of string-like thread, from yarn to thin wire to audio tape. Most of these things have been tried already, somewhere.

The book went onto my wishlist at Fishpond. Though I don’t need it, it did have some good project ideas in it. If you’re curious, follow both the link to the Fishpond page (and Google Preview) but also the Craft Leftovers review.

Projects for 2011

1. Customs House Sketch Albums
Left over from Projects of 2010. I have a huge box of line drawings done by Paul’s late father. They need sorting through, a lot of preparatory material removed (except some of the sketches, which are lovely in themselves) and the drawings to be bound together in an attractive and accessible way.

2. Mini Art
I have a box of tiny framed artworks – with many the frame is decorated and as much a part of the piece as the art it frames. They need to be hung somewhere with room to add to the collection.

3. Certificate Portfolio/s
We have a collection of certificates. Some are mine, some are Paul’s, some belonged to Paul’s parents. Since I’m an artist, Paul is a photographer, and we’re both collectors of art, photography and ephemera, there’s not much space left on our walls. Solution: a portfolio in which to keep and/or display the certificates together – much like a photo album. Which can be added to, as well.

4. Rag Rugs – DONE!
I left the number unspecified. I’ve managed to gather together quite a collection of fabric and old clothing to recycle into rag rugs, that I really need to get stuck into making them in order to make more floor space in the workroom.

5. Painted Canvas Dining Chair Covers
A project for fun, not for using up something or displaying things we already have. Using the methods in Canvas Remix, I want to paint some canvas and sew it up into seat covers for our dining chairs.

6. Use Up Macrame Supplies
A few years back I set myself a challenge to try out some crafts I hadn’t done in years. One was macrame, and I made a little pot hanger. It was fun, but macrame didn’t stick. However, I’d bought supplies for more projects. I want to either make the projects or find another use for the materials.

7. Use Up or Get Rid of Silk Painting Supplies – DONE!
There are two big plastic tubs full of leftover fabric, tools and inks from the craft I was obsessed with in my 20s. When I revisited silk painting during the same challenge, I worked out a fast, attractive scrunching method for dyeing scarves. Getting them steamed was always a problem, but I tried steaming a scarf scrunched into a ball and it only enhanced the effect. So either I’m going to spend a day using up all the ink I have then keep the resulting scarves to give as gifts, or have a craft day with friends and let them keep the scarves they make. What’s left over will be donated… somewhere.

8. Favourite Photo Gallery
Paul has always been very keen on photography and is now doing a course, and I’m a keen dabbler as well. Yet we have no photos on the walls. I want to make a space somewhere in the house and fill it with our work. Paul already has a stack of small frames that would be ideal for it. This project may get very big, actually. We have a wall that goes most of the length of our house that is covered in wood panelling which isn’t great for hanging things against, and lately I’ve been thinking we could have it replaced with plasterboard. Maybe I’ll get a quote and see how much it’ll cost…