It is time to shake out the Ribbon Tin and see what is inside. Inside the Ribbon Tin is a monthly series featuring a miscellany of bits and bobs, odds and sods, knicks and knacks, all sorts of interesting things related to textiles and making.
First out, something I found in Our Dear Boy’s Storyworld cards…The Spindle of Loss.
Storyworld cards are a series of fairytale and fantasy cards designed to help children create stories and adventures, a beautiful version of Rory’s Storycubes. According to the back of the card, the Spindle of Loss can unravel anything…how terrifying! The archetype of the spinner of human fates is not uncommon in mythology. There are the Germanic Norns, and the Greek Moirai. But they are always spinning a thread rather than unravelling. A thread may break and then of course you die, but what crazy, scary kind of being goes around unravelling things? The Spindle of Loss is too freaky for me…fingers crossed I don’t turn up that card when we play next.
Perhaps the Ribbon Tin has something to sweeten that spooky card?
How about a boiled sweet from Sovereign Hill, a historical park and open-air museum exploring the Ballarat Gold Rush in the 1850s? Brown’s Confectionery Manufactory was a Ballarat institution from the 1850s to the 1970s. When the business finally closed the family donated the factory machinery to Sovereign Hill. We saw the sweets being made by hand, being pulled on a steel hook and rolled through a cranked Victorian sweet mold. These sweets are marvellous things and still produced in many of the original Victorian flavours including musk drops, lemon drops, humbugs, raspberry drops, butterballs, aniseed drops and barley sugar. You can even buy them online.
This is one of my favourite books. It gets read and reread. I have just been reading about Ancient Greek clay loom weights. The weights were used to add tension to the warp threads of an upright wall loom. They have an image of an owl spinning wool stamped on them.
The image comes from the collections of the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology, there is only a sketch in my book. The owl is Athena, goddess of spinning and weaving. You can see the wool basket at her bottom right. Her clever hands guide the spindle. These weights date around 400 BCE. Someone held these, used them, wove stuff…spine tingling.
I am still living on this wee gem from the Craftivism historical series a couple of weeks ago. Knitters overlooking rail yards in occupied Belgium during World War II were recruited to encode train timetables in their knitting for the Resistance. Naturally, I slip this into any small boy war conversation that I can, following it with the importance of hand knitted socks in combating trench foot in the First World War…to great wonder and awe.
Twist Collective Spring Edition has an article on shearing sheep in the US. The farmer is getting less for the fleece than it costs to transport them to the market. Some farmers just burn the fleece because it is cheaper than to try and sell it. It was that sad quirk of modern sheep raising that prompted Jillybean Yarns to start processing and dyeing fleece from her local farms in Somerset, UK.
I have been intrigued with the possibilities of children’s representations of place after seeing this lovely post from Riverwife Clay. Using clay, children create contour layers and geographical features like houses, trees, ovals and water bodies. The contour layers are not fused so they can be disassembled and reassembled in different ways. We live on a hill and I would be keen to see how our kids represent their neighbourhood in a three dimensional way.
I will leave you now with a rhyme from prolific New Zealand author, Margaret Mahy.
If I had a needle, a needle,
I would sew you a wonderful cake,
I would crochet the cream,
I would stitch like a dream,
I would not make a single mistake.
I would fasten it together with buttons,
Embroider it yellow and green,
But there could be hitches with cakes made of stitches,
I’ll knit you a sandwich instead.
Yes, more musings on time and craft. Thank you for your contributions and perspectives on time too…very thought provoking.
In retrospect, I think I was a little hasty in suggesting that the meaning of craft lay only in the process or time spent making rather than the object itself. Upon consideration, I reckon the made object itself becomes imbued with time-related meanings and becomes in effect, an artefact of time. Bear with me as I muddle this through.
This is my last year at home with Our Dear Girl. Next year she is off to school. Although she goes to kindergarten, we still have a couple of days a weeks just for her and I. We ride our bikes, visit friends, cook, garden, play mums and dads, schools, exploring and of course make things.
On one of our days at home, I was putting away some bits and pieces of fabric destashed from a friend, when Our Dear Girl decided she would like a ‘beautiful patchwork quilt’ for her dolly. I love these moments and what the kids think is possible in an afternoon with zero experience.
She started pulling out bits from the scrap bin and I let her choose some things from my stash too. Then we grouped them into piles of similar colours and got rid of non-cottons and other odd scraps. I know nothing about quilting except what I have read on real quilters blogs so we just winged it.
I cut out strips and then she and I sewed them together. We ironed them and that was all we got done that day. But Our Dear Girl was so excited she carried those bits around and showed her brother and her dad as soon as they got home, declaring them her beautiful patchwork quilt.
That night I cut them into wedges and sewed the wedges together. I was hoping for hexagons but didn’t realise just how much fabric you need. So I sewed in the reversed wedges as well and made, well, nuclear radiation symbols! Oops!
We used an old worn out cloth nappy as the wadding and a favourite worn out pillow case as the backing. Then over the next couple of nights, I sewed the quilting lines.
In this tiny quilt, made of her most beautiful, favourite and lowly fabrics, is stitched my last year with Our Dear Girl, our spontaneous projects, our open days, our playing, our making and that bitter-sweet feeling that a profound joy will inevitably end.
Recently, Betsy wrote of this very phenomenon in her Craftivism blog,
As lovers of things handmade, I think we are lucky to appreciate the work that goes into them, as they hold traces not just of the hands that made them, but of the people themselves.
In this way, craft work can be seen as preserving time. Hand made items preserve time in the same way that fruit is preserved as jam, not as the unchanged strawberry or plum fresh plucked, but as something cooked and processed to preserve the taste of summer. Hand made items embody both the hours of making (time) and memories and feelings of people (the times) within the construction of the object…a true cultural artefact.
Apologies to Henry David Thoreau for my wee tweek of his words but I have been thinking a lot about time recently, where to find it, what to do with it and how to pay attention to it.
Things have been flying off the sewing machine needles recently, another pair of trousers for me, a skirt requested by Our Dear Girl, something to stick a plant into, a long cut-out dress finally sewn up and little quilt for a dolly. But I am not quite sure how it all happens. So I have been a-thinkin about time.
In the absence of great swathes of time, that perhaps exist only in myth, I realise I practice a kind of guerilla crafting. In the time that it takes to boil pasta, if everything else is ready to go, I can slip in a bit of hand spindling. I can knit while the kids are in their swimming lesson or while waiting to pick them from school or kinder. Does this sound familiar? It doesn’t have to be a kid thing, you might knit on the way to work, in a lunch break, quilt at night, spin after work.
I am going to call this gleaning, gleaning time. Gleaning is collecting, often by women and children, the bits of grain and other fruits and vegetables after the main harvest is finished. They are the bits left over after the useful stuff is picked. Gleanings are important and precious leftovers however that traditionally sustained peasant families in agrarian societies.
Because I have young children and my job for the moment is caring for them, I glean the time that is left over and in between caring for them. Now that they are becoming older, the time available for gleaning is increasing but will change again when my youngest goes to school and my responsibilities outside the home increase.
But right now, I have become a master at slipping away for half an hour if everyone is quietly playing or reading to sew a few seams, knit a few rows or cut something out. Spinning on the wheel is more difficult to fit between things…I need to plan for spinning time so that is usually a weekend thing or at night.
Indeed, many of the handcrafts traditionally associated with women, weaving, spinning, sewing, knitting and food gardening are particularly suited to gleaned time. Pick them up, put them down, little equipment, nothing dangerous for wee ones to be hurt with. Judith Brown, an anthropologist of women’s work noted forty years ago that the kinds of labour that became associated with women in pre industrial communities were those which were most compatible with raising children, particularly breastfeeding which until recently was typically continued for around three years. The labour and skills which families depended on women doing had to done around feeding and watching children. This is what makes many textile crafts so suited to bits and pieces of time.
If my handcrafts of choice were painting, pottery, iron work or welding, I wouldn’t be able to find an ounce of time to pursue these at the moment, they couldn’t fit.
Now all this squeezing in and seizing of moments, disquiets me at times as it sits along side a generalised culture of time compression. Texting whilst walking, phone calls and emails popping in all the time. There is little unfilled time, no empty spaces. Life at times can be a little over fullsome in just doing stuff. Over the years, I have adopted some mindfulness techniques to create calmness, presence and deliberateness to my headless chookery moments. This has certainly softened that feeling of time compression when I remember to do it!
Since my craftwork is neither our income nor our defence against a terrible winter, my driving desire to make stuff in odd moments suggests there are deeper compulsions at work here than relaxing over a spot of knitting. I recently came across a lovely explanation of the profundity of handwork here which resonated with me and perhaps you too.
How do you find the time to make stuff by hand?
I have been sampling, an unexplored territory for me.
Normally, I spin by the seat of my pants, which basically means that I have never really considered the relationship between my spinning wheel, the fibre and what yarn I intend to make. Spinning has felt a bit chaotic and my results rather random. It was time to become intentional and deliberate and learn about whorls, ratio and twist.
The whorls drive the spindle faster or slower per pedal, altering the amount of twist entering the fibre. You would choose a larger whorl if you were were making a bulky yarn with little twist and and a smaller whorl if you were making a fine yarn with lots of twist. A particular whorl might give you 7 turns of the spindle per pedal (or wheel rotation) and this would be understood as a ratio of 7:1.
My whorls which you can see on the right of the pic, are 7:1, 8:1 and 9:1. Not a great range but useful for middle range yarns.
To use whorl ratios to deliberately calculate twist rates for yarn, you just need to think of how many twists per inch of drafted fibre you want. The article in Spin Off, Fall 2013, Choosing the Whorl to Make the Yarn You Want by Rudy Amann, was really useful here. If I want 7 twists per inch, then I would use the 7:1 ratio and draft out 1 inch of fibre every time I treadled. If I want 4 twists per inch, I could use the 8:1 ratio and draft out 2 inches for every treadle.
To work out how many twists per inch I should be working towards, I used Ann Field’s method of spinning to the crimp. This is fully explored in Spinning Wool: Beyond the Basics but I just googled it and used this explanation. This method suggests that the twists per inch should match the crimps per inch (crimps are the little wobbles down the fibre shaft).
To work out the twist required, you use this formula:
1.5 x crimp rate per inch for singles (this accommodates the slight untwisting that occurs in plying)
1 x crimp rate per inch for plying.
This method suggests that high crimp fibres like merino would have high twist rates and the singles would be relatively fine. Low crimp fibres like Border Leicester would have low twist rates and the singles would be thicker.
This method worked perfectly for some alpaca I was sampling. It had a crimp rate of 7 per inch. Therefore I needed 10 TPI (Twists Per Inch) for singles and 7 TPI for plying. I drafted 1 inch per treadle on the 9:1 ratio for singles and 1 inch per treadle on the 7:1 ratio for plying.
The result was a 2 ply balanced yarn with 7 TPI, exactly the weight and handle I was looking for.
The Border Leicester had 2.5 crimps per inch. This translated to roughly 4 TPI for singles and 2.5 TPI for plying. I drafted 2 inches per treadle on the 8:1 ratio for singles and 3 inches per treadle on the 7:1 ratio for plying.
The result was so underplied, I plied it at the same rate again. It was still unsuitable for socks.
Then I tried drafting 1 inch per treadle on the 8:1 ratio for singles and plying and ended up with a 2 ply yarn with 5.5 TPI. This result was more pleasing and I knitted it up into a swatch and wore it inside my sock for a day to see if I could handle it next to my skin. I forgot all about that swatch and found it in my sock at the end of the day, so I guess that is a good sign. Now I know I can replicate that yarn again, although I might make the next a three ply which is said to be better for socks.
Sampling engaged my brain and my awareness much more than spinning normally does. I felt calmer and more deliberate. I had to maintain a state of mindfulness to remember the counts as well as the drafting amount. The results were rather thrilling in a quiet way!
If any wise spinsters can add to the whole intentional spinning thing, I’d love to hear from you. Now I have to go and get my child’s underwear out of a tree.
Easily made from bits and pieces from your stash, these are half crowns that fit across the front of a child’s head and fasten around the back with elastic. They fit a range of head sizes (2 – 5 years), they can be put on easily by the child and they stay on!
1. Cut out a crown shape measuring 28cm x 8cm from iron-on interfacing and then fuse it onto some yellow drill cotton (larger by 1 cm all round than the interfacing) with the iron.
2. Turn over and sew any braid decoration to the right side. This part is great for kids to be involved in picking out and arranging the braid.
3. Pin another piece of drill same dimensions as the first, to the right side of your crown piece, sandwiching a 21 cm piece of elastic at the sides (1 cm selvedge each end) and sew along the sides and top of the crown leaving the bottom open.
4. Clip the edges and corners, turn it out and iron the crown and the bottom seam under.
5. Top stitch the bottom seam.
I am proud to announce the release of Pineapple Stacks Hat as a downloadable pattern that can be purchased from Needle and Spindle Designs Ravelry Store for AUD $ 4.00.
You don’t have to be a member of Ravelry to purchase a pattern, you can do so as a guest and the PDF will be sent to your email address.
Pineapple Stacks Hat is a warm, textured hat for a Northern Spring or Southern Autumn and any kind of Winter! It features cables and twisted stitches. It is knit in DK which always seem to be handy in the stash. I bet you have something perfect in there right now.
Finish Pineapple Stacks with a good sized pom-pom. My preferred method for pom-pom making is demonstrated in this tutorial from Creature Comforts.
For those of you who have been reading this blog for a while, you might remember the early iteration of this hat from when we were in Somerset, UK in 2012. I had been admiring the drying teazles which grew by the roadsides and laneways and wanted to create a stitch pattern just like it. After many happy hours of experimenting, a new pattern was formed, not the teazle I had initially envisioned but a rather delicious pineapple!
The hat was knit in custardy gold King Cole DK and really did look very pineappley. That first Pineapple was unfortunately left on tram in Munich and its purple reprise won a ribbon at the Australian Sheep and Wool Show Woolcraft Competition last year.
The pattern is written in a handy table style. It fits on a single, double-sided page so it is easy to print off and carry around. Pineapple Stacks is written for a variety of head sizes from baby to gentleman size.
Thank you Adele for pattern testing, to my models for being such good sports and to the Sweaty Knitter for the insightful series on pattern construction styles she posted last year.
To celebrate Pineapple Stacks Hat becoming an actual pattern, I would like to offer all my readers the opportunity to receive a free copy of the pattern. For the next three days only, let me know in the comments section if you would like a Pineapple Stacks pattern and I will send you a code that you can use in the Ravelry store. Offer ends Sunday at midnight Melbourne time.
This Ribbon Tin begins with a postscript about Pirate Treasure. Adrian Bizilia, the mother of the design that eventually became my Treasure Hat, generously looked at the hat and identified yet another modification of We Call Them Pirates. She recognised the Treasure Hat as being knit from the Skull Hat pattern by Gina Davidson (2007), a simplified version of We Call Them Pirates using the same chart as Jack Sparrow’s Favourite Socks but with a lining and spiral decreases for the crown.
I searched through the Skull Hat projects but couldn’t find one that was likely to be my Treasure Hat. Ah well, that it still a lot of design history squeezed into a wee hat.
From a child’s knitted hat to children’s mittens, we brought home a luffley picture story book from the library recently. It is called A Mountain of Mittens (2007) by Lynn Plourde and illustrated by Mitch Van. The best bit is when the children use their crocheted mitten cords to haul their school bus out of the snow.
Another book we borrowed was, My Forever Dress (2009) by Harriet Ziefert and illustrated by Liz Murphy. The illustrations are created from bits of dressmaking patterns and pieces of fabric.
It tells the story of a girl whose grandmother sews her a dress, which to conserve our environment, gets altered as she grows, then recycled into another dress and finally passed on to a cousin. It takes the reader through all the stages of measuring, cutting, basting, sewing and modifying the Forever Dress. It also depicts knitting from your stash as an environmentally responsible act. Yeah!
Then, just yesterday, we discovered Extra Yarn (2012) by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen. This is a tale of a magic box of yarn that never runs out, a girl who knits for the town and an evil archduke who covets that yarn.
What strange segue is this, you ask? Well, during the Napoleonic Wars, when Wellington’s troops were all through Spain, the British took thousands of Spanish Merinos home as spoils of war. Napoleon is said to have taken 20,000 back to France. Up until this time, Spanish Merinos had been protected from export by the Spanish Government. Their fine, soft wool was so coveted that people stole them, smuggled them and took them as war booty. Some of the progeny of the war booty sheep started up flocks in the early years of British occupation in Sydney and Tasmania. As a result of these wars, Spain lost their Merino monopoly and Merino sheep and more importantly their genes for fine wool, became disseminated around the world.
My knowledge of the Napoleonic Wars is basically derived from the Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell and of course Sean Bean in the TV series. There is a wondrous image in my mind of Sean Bean herding sheep and talking in that delicious voice of his about crimp counts and grist.
And since we are rummaging in the historical ribbons now, let me share with you a pocket.
This pocket which dates from c. 1725 – 50 was drawn by Janet Arnold in her seminal Patterns of Fashion 1 – Englishwomen’s dresses and their construction c.1660 – 1860 (1977). The pocket is from the Wade costume collection formally at Snowshill Manor, now at Berrington Hall, UK and celebrated in this marvellous blog.
For some reason, I am deeply attracted to a big embroidered pocket that hangs around my waist crammed with useful things. It is different from a handbag. You never need wonder where your pocket is.
I am closing up the Ribbon Tin for now and will lift the lid again next month.
Our children seem to loose sunhats like I loose pins, frequently and to my great irritation. So we visited our local charity shop to find a quick replacement. We didn’t find a sunhat but I did find a very warm beanie. Not really useful right now but surely will be soon. I call it the Treasure hat.
Does it look familiar to any knitters out there? It did to me and I got super excited to find this particular US hand knit design in our neck of the woods. You know I love a mystery and I decided to use Ravelry to see if I could find its origins.
Treasure hat is a modified version of We Call Them Pirates, a hat pattern by Adrian Bizilia from Hello Yarn available as a free Ravelry download. As you can see from the image of the original design (courtesy of Adrian Bizilia), the orginal is a sectioned hat, the motifs making vertical and horizontal colourwork patterns.
The modification is dated 2006. Pamela Northrup from Katydid Knits, took elements from They Call Them Pirates to make a chart for socks, Jack Sparrow’s Favourite Socks. This came to be used as a modified chart for a hat by other knitters, appearing fairly often amongst the They Call Them Pirates projects.
The Treasure hat has the lining of the original pattern but spiralling crown decreases and is very similar to projects posted by bioengiknitter in December 2007. Her projects seem to be the first time the Jack Sparrow mods appear in hat form in the They Call Them Pirates project list. Ravelry was only launched in May of that year, so these are early entries.
In a filtered search of both designs I tried to see if I could find the actual hat on Ravelry.
But alas, I could not.
So the only things we really can know about the Treasure hat is its design origin.
Things that are likely are that:
- it was made later than 2006, probably later than December 2007.
- the knitter is likely to be Australian
- the knitter used Ravelry to marry those particular mods to the original pattern but didn’t post their project.
One of the most interesting things that has come out of this little mystery for me, is how Ravelry, ostensibly a pattern database and social network of knitters, crocheters and spinners can be used as an historical textile archive to trace the origins and development of particular designs through the documented material culture of actual knitters.
This adventure cost me $1.00.
Not long ago, I came home from school pick-up to find a collection of bags on the front verandah. There was yarn in one, machine knitted samples in another and fabric scraps in the other…refugees from a friend’s de-stashing. The bags got as far as the lounge room floor.
The next day, a few hours before kinder pick-up, I had a peek in the fabric scrap bag while uploading files which were taking ages…and ages.
Oh goodness, that bag was a treasure trove! It was full of small scraps of Nicola Cerini fabrics. Nicola Cerini makes bags and rugs and homewares. Her designs often feature Australian flora like banksia and grevillea.
Nicola Cerini is a Melbourne phenomenon, a textile designer who was able to turn her fabrics into a sustainable, successful, international business. She began by using her fabrics to make bags – hardwearing, utilitarian bags featuring blocks of beautiful screen printed fabrics.
My first Nicola Cerini bag was a sample bought at her open studio sale in the late 90s. It was all I could afford. Later, when I was more grown up and financial, I bought a striking orange and red banskia bag from a real shop. I wore it till it was so scuffed and worn, it looked more like an artefact than a bag. You can see the fabric in this next picture.
And the bag was celebrated with a trip to the market.
That bag of bag scraps had sat at my friend’s house for a few years. It would have sat at my house for years too, waiting for me to get around to making something with those really useful looking bits and pieces….but for the boredom of waiting for files to load, a few precious hours and that the bag just happened to be next to me.
And why not indeed?
In an Ode to a Nightingale, John Keats wrote
Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!No hungry generations tread thee down;The voice I hear this passing night was heardIn ancient days by emperor and clown:Perhaps the self-same song that found a pathThrough the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,She stood in tears amid the alien corn;The same that oft-times hathCharm’d magic casements, opening on the foamOf perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn.