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Blanket of many colours

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blanketAbout three of four years ago, I bought a knitting book really cheaply in the sales. It was by Rowan and had all sorts of designs for cushions, blankets and rugs. (I tried to find it on Amazon to link to but couldn’t. I should just go downstairs and find it, but I’m feeling lazy today! I will post it later.) This patchwork blanket caught my eye. It is made up of different hexagons, some in knit, and some in fabric. All the knitted hexagons have a different pattern so it’s really textured and interesting to look at.

My Mum and I were given a big bag full of odd Rowan balls by my Aunty and they were just perfect for this project. I knitted them on and off for about three years (!) until I had finally finished them. I then went hunting in the fabric stash box, and came across some corduroy type fabrics to use as the other hexagons. Now there was a laying out pattern in the book which seemed straight forward, but when you consider that no two same knitted patterns or colours should lie together, this got complicated! Finally I arranged the knitting pinned and sewed it together (I don’t mind sewing up knitting. I know some people hate it, but to me it means I’ve nearly finished, Hurray!) then I came to a stop.

The book said, sew the fabric hexagons into strips according to the pattern. I did that on my tiny sewing machine that just does straight stitch. Then lay the knitting over the top, pin and zig zag stitch to the fabric. I’m not doing that by hand! I eventually got myself a sewing machine, and my first project was to finish the blanket. I zig zagged, cut out a plain grey wool backing, used the same for the edging and sewed it all in place. The edging was like bias binding, so I then had to flip it over to the back and hand sew ūüė¶ all around the edge.

Finally after four years I had finished and just in time for the snowy weather. Although at times I absolutely hated this project, I love the finished result. I can really see it being something I will always have, and the fact that I finished it by hand¬†makes it all the more special. I don’t know if four years is a record for not finishing a project? I’d love to hear of anybody else’s long suffering craft projects!



Tips on how to sew leather

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p>When I first got my sewing machine, I should have really taken the time to get to know it, what each button and switch did and make easy things out of cotton squares. Did I do that? No. I went straight in at the deep end making bags out of recycled leather coats. Cue broken needles, bunched up material and fabric that would just not go through. This caused many arguments between me and my machine. I would shout at it for not doing what I wanted and it would ignore me because I treated it so badly. Now that we have known each other for a while, we have become friends and I thought to save you all from falling out with your machine, I would post my best tips for sewing with leather. Some I have found out about from other bloggers (Thank You!) others I have discovered from trial and error!

Tip 1: Use a leather needle

That’s obvious I hear you say? Well yes it is, but I tried to sew with a regular needle for ages because I didn’t have any leather needles. It does work and you can get away with it, but using leather needles makes it soooo much easier! They pierce through the material with the sharp spike at the end, so the sewing hole is a little more noticeable, but it is worth it. (They are also quite cheap. I got mine for about ¬£2)

Tip 2: Use a non-stick foot

A regular metal foot can stick to the leather, especially if you are working on the shiny side. A non-stick foot is made out of plastic and will glide across the surface without pulling, making it easier to sew! (Also not very expensive. I got mine from Amazon)

Tip 3: Decrease the pressure

Does your machine have a dial like this? This dictates how much pressure the presser foot puts onto the fabric. Normally, if you are sewing with a thick material, you want a lot of pressure because you want the fabric to be pushed through to the feed dogs (little metal tracks on the base of your machine) which pulls the fabric through while it is being sewn. However, I have found that this can increase how much leather sticks to the foot. If you are able to decrease the pressure of the foot it is less likely to stick. If I wanted to decrease the pressure on my machine, I would turn the dial to a lower number, but it might be different on yours!

Tip 4:  Dont use pins

Pins are really awkward with leather. Because it is so thick, it often doesn’t lie flat after you have pinned layers together, meaning that when you come to sew it, it will be tricky to sew a straight line. Pins can also mark the leather and leave small holes. I prefer to use small bull-dog clips, as they don’t mark and can be repositioned quickly whilst you are sewing.

Tip 5:Use some baking paper

Where I live, we call this stuff baking parchment/greaseproof paper. I don’t know if other countries call it something different, but basically it is the stuff you line a cake tin with to stop the cake sticking. If your leather is still sticking to the bottom of the machine and not moving though, you can put some of this paper underneath it. Just like a cake, this stops it sticking and makes it so much easier to sew. This is a really good tip if you are making straps as often there are many layers so you need a bit of pressure to make sure the material goes through the machine. The only problem I have found with this technique is that afterwards, when you pull the paper away from the leather, because you have sewn through it, sometimes little bits of paper get stuck under¬†the sewing¬†thread. This can be pulled out, it’s just a pain to do the whole length of a bag strap!

And that’s it. Those are the tips and tricks I use, but if anyone has any others I’d really like to hear about them. I hope this post has helped you and now you can sew with leather all day long!

Natural Graffiti and Painted Birds

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I don’t usually get the train to town, but the other day I was going to the fabric shop and as it’s nearly ¬£2 cheaper to get the train than the bus these days (and¬†I wouldn’t have to walk so far!) I ventured out. When I got into Manchester I had to walk a way I had never been before (it looked a little dodgy, but then again¬†arty parts of any town seem to be dodgy don’t they?)¬†and¬†happened upon¬†this graffiti painting on the side of an old building. I must confess that I don’t get graffiti (I remember at uni, everyone being really excited to do a project on graffiti artists and I could not be less bothered) I don’t usually like it and I don’t really see the point. This one though seemed special. I think it was the fact that I was in the dodgy, run down bit of town, and then out of nowhere is this large piece of nature staring down at me. (It also helps that I love birds!) I hate to use the word juxtaposition, but it was and it’s the first piece of graffiti I have seen that I actually like. (Someone will probably tell me now that this is not graffiti, but a mural!)

It turned out to be a day of painted birds as I went to have a bit of dinner at the Manchester Craft and Design Centre. The Craft Centre is an old factory (some sort of old Victorian building anyway) that has been turned into small, sort of gallery/shop/studios that designers rent and make and sell their work from. After having my dinner of mozzarella, tomato and basil toasty (yum!) I had a look around the shops and ended up buying these badges.

The artist is Lily Greenwood and I thought these little bird badges were just so cute! There were also some really beautiful paintings mixed with collages like the butterfly badge, which I also liked. They reminded me of Japanese lacquer furniture with colourful images on a plain background and a shiny coat of varnish on top. I had never been to the Craft Centre before and I assumed that everything would be out of my price range, but I was surprised at how affordable much of the stuff was. (Some stuff was not!) I also saw some bags and things like I have been making which have made me question the prices I was thinking of selling at. Maybe I can charge more if I target the right audience. If you are interested in one-off pieces (one of the shops held workshops where you could design and make your own wedding rings!) and new design, then the Manchester Craft and Design Centre is definitely worth a visit.

Recycled plant labels

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At lunch time, I never know what to eat and most of the time can’t be bothered to make anything more complicated than Ryvitas¬†or soup from a can! However, I have discovered Naked Noodle Ramen Noodles which is like a pot noodle but posher¬†and nicer (I like the Thai chicken flavour) I have been eating quite a few of these and as you can see they have very nice packaging and come with a plastic fork. To make myself feel less guilty about eating so many pots of noodles, I like to recycle the packaging. The fork was proving more of a problem, as I only eat them at home, I don’t need the plastic fork (I have real person metal ones) I wanted to use them for something and then one day came up with the idea of using them in the greenhouse. By writing on the handle with a permanent pen, I could use the prongs to stick into the soil and make little labels for my vegetable seeds. As I plant the same seeds every year I can also re-use them! I’m sure there are lots of other things you can do with old plastic forks and I am very open to suggestions (especially as my collection is mounting up again!)

Making Cyanotypes

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Lately it has been so sunny which makes me want to make cyanotypes! I first discovered cyanotypes on my A Level Photography course. My exam theme was light and I wanted to take photographs only using light. So basically a cyanotype is a way of making photos without a camera, using specially prepared paper and a sunny day. Here I will tell you how to prepare the cyanotype paper and how to produce a print!

First of all you need to aquire the materials to make the cyanotype liquid. This is made up from a number of chemicals, and you can get lists of ingredients and quantities on the internet, but as I am not making a large number of prints I buy a kit. Stone Creek Silk¬†sell a “Cyanotype (Blueprint) Chemicals Kit” for ¬£8.50 which makes a good quantity of liquid and includes instructions. When making up the liquid BE CAREFUL! READ ALL THE SAFETY INSTURCTIONS! Although it is a fun and fairly easy process, you are dealing with serious chemicals which need to be handled properly. The most important thing to remember when mixing the chemicals is to do so in a dark environment as the mixture (obviously!) reacts to light and will be unusable if you left it out in the daylight. Once you have mixed the chemicals up according to the instructions, you can store the liquid in a brown glass bottle (in the dark). Apply the liquid to paper using a brush or a sponge and leave to dry in the dark (are you spotting a dark pattern?) Once the paper is dry you can start to make a print!

Collect your objects you want to make a print of. I like to use glass bowls (you get nice patterns from the light refracting) flowers and lace. You can also go the historical route and turn negatives into cyanotypes (use a photo software on your computer to turn your photograph/drawing/ painting ¬†into a negative image, then print it onto acetate made for printers) Keeping your cyanotype paper in the dark for as long as possible, lay it outside in full sun then quickly place your chosen object/negative onto the paper. Do not move it and don’t cause a shadow over the paper as these will show up on the finished print!

When you first lay out your paper, it will be a sort of green/grey colour, but as it reacts to the sun, it will turn to a grey/blue colour (this is how a cyanotype works. The parts covered from light will stay the same colour as the paper they were applied to, the exposed sections turn blue!) There is no set time to leave the paper out in the sun, just look for the colour change and experiment (make sure to have lots of paper prepared) The next step is to wash:

You need to wash the print to remove the cyanotype mixture that did not react to the light. place it under cold running water and wash it until the water runs clear (The stuff that comes off will be green) Be careful not to rip your print when waggling it in the water as it will take some time before it is properly washed.

I like to lay out some old plastic bags by the sink to put the wet cyanotypes onto to dry. As they are drying, check the surface to see if there is any green liquid which didn’t get completely washed off. If there is, just wash the print some more. Basically that’s it! Once it is dry it’s done! Here are my finished pieces:

These aren’t the most brilliant prints! I just did them quickly for this tutorial, but you can see what an effective technique it is. Also I have talked about applying the liquid to paper, but you can also put it onto fabric (the flower image above is made on fabric) wood, anything that will absorb the liquid really. The thing I love about cyanotypes is the surprise result and the experimentation factor. I hope you try it out yourself, it’s so much fun!

Rag rug wreath

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Here is a (really poor quality!) photo of a rag rug wreath I made at college. One of the girls showed us how to make them as part of¬†a skills¬†sharing presentation¬†we have to give. It was so simple to make, the kind of thing where you say “Why didn’t I think of that!” All you have to do is bend some thickish wire into the shape of your choosing (mine is so obviously a heart) then cut small strips of fabric and knot them in the middle around the wire. Keep going until all the wire is covered and there you have it! Christmas is coming up and I think these would look really good as circular wreaths for a door. The good thing about homemade decorations is that you can tailor them to suit your Christmas colour theme or your interior design tastes. This is also a great way of using up those bits of fabric that you just have to buy, them get them home and don’t have a clue what to do with.

Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair

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A while ago I visited the Great Northern Contemporary Craft Fair at Spinningfields in Manchester. Apart for the initial problems of taking a short cut from the bus stop and ending up somewhere completely different to where I thought I would, then wandering around Spinningfields for about 15 minutes trying to find the fair (for some reason I thought it would be in a marquee?) I found the trip very interesting!

The real reason I was going was as market research for a course I am doing and also to maybe purchase a few early christmas presents. The picture at the top was taken at the entrance ( it was so crowded inside so only managed to take pictures of the backs of people’s heads!) I think that is some graduate work in the window but I really like the folding technique you can see with the white paper. There were some really great products there and some were reasonable¬†prices while others were well out of my league. I did buy a nice little bright yellow glass plate though, I’m not sure what to do with it but for some reason, I can’t stop touching it!

Anyway, I have to do some research into the designers I liked the best, so I might post some of their websites later on. The downside of the fair was that there were so many talented people it made me question whether I could compete in that market. However I have decided to think positive and start small. Maybe one day I will be selling there.