Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Yarn Along 

Thanking y'all for your lovely comments and encouragement last week, I am joining Ginny over at small things for this week's Yarn Along. 
As often, I'm far more interested in what I'm currently making than what I'm reading ; ) but a lovely friend lent me this book Simply Felt.  I really enjoyed reading the introduction as I picked up some new information on the physical make-up of sheep's wool and other snippets that are great to know, and be able to pass on to students. I was also interested to find a great idea for making your own silk-inlaid lampshade using the delicate texture of tussah silk, one of my favourite materials.You can control how much light you wish to show through so ideal for soft atmospheric light... something I always yearn to create more of in our home. 
My son's jumper is almost there. I seem to have developed a block about finishing this, not sure why! The knitting of it was really satisfying, and it went fast but the seaming, neck and armbands call for a bit more effort. Our guided knitting sessions have finished til the Autumn so these parts are uncharted territory for me as of yet. My aunt will come visiting soon from Oregon and she is a deft knitter, so I'm looking forward to asking her to show me a few things. Can't wait to see my smallie dashing about in this, and by the looks of our Irish summer so far, he'll not have to wait til Winter to break it in : )

Thursday, 16 June 2011

mossy green dreams

I am packing up all my felting gear. I'm off on the windy road to Dingle for a long weekend to take Pam De Groot's masterclass in Nuno Felting. She is outstanding in this field. I'm excited and daunted all at once! I've never attempted to make a garment before, but have been dreaming of a mossy green nuno felted waistcoat for quite some time now. This is my chance. I'm thrilled at the opportunity to build on my skills and be able to share new techniques with students later on. She's asked us to bring some curious materials, I'm intrigued...mung beans, PVC pipes, screws? Hmmm...all will be revealed. Watch this space ; )

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Yarn Along

I am joining Ginny and the gang over at small things for this weeks Yarn Along. I began to learn how to knit this Spring at our local Woollygatherings and while I feel I've a lot to learn yet, I'm delighted to be tackling my first 'big' project, a sleeveless v-neck jumper for my small man. He pulls one on practically every morning for school, but they're not easily available to buy around here in the pure wool version. It's also very hard to find fun colours in boy's clothing.
 I'm loving working on circular needles and this Noro yarn is really vibrant. I do find the colour gradations a bit dubious in places though, so for this piece which is the front, I broke off the yarn and re-joined to get a smoother colour change. I love self-striping yarns.
Sarah Ban Breathnach's Simple Abundance is a comforting read.  There's a short essay for every day so it's ideal, as I can tend to have poor staying-power when it comes to books without pictures, but I can just dip in and out of this. Alas, less reading and more knitting is called for these days as a certain smallie keeps asking 'Is my jumper finished yet..?' Daunted by the mysteries of how to knit a neckband, I go on! I look forward to seeing it 'in action' for that's when a piece of knitwear truly comes to life, right? with a moving body inside it...and there is no doubt that this one will see lots of movement ; )

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Farewell to Spring

Before it feels like Spring has finally bowed her head to Summer, I wanted to share some felted pieces that I made in honour of springtime.

I recall having a nature table in primary school and I clearly remember being captivated by the birds nest it held. The value of bringing the outside in, to the classroom or home is significant, particularly in more urban environments. Children love to gather natural treasures and put them in a special place, like a seasonal table, to remind them of that special walk, what's currently growing or changing in nature and the colours or creatures we associate with that time of year.

 Symbolic figures such as these reflect the changing seasons outside and welcome in the new. The figures have real presence, are sturdy enough for gentle play by older children and are ideal as central figures in puppet plays and storytelling.

Lady Spring's basket I made from hemp, I felted with undyed and plant-dyed wool. I tell you, working with plant-dyed is a whole other level of experience as a feltmaker. Every time I use it I swear I don't want to work with any other kind of wool. Otherwise known as Magic Wool, it is quite literally alive and you can feel the energy of that in your hands as you work with it. It's also to do with the very subtle qualities of the colours...conventionally dyed wool presents a single flat colour, whereas a  plant dyed colour contains many other colours and hues within it. The beauty of this, is that any combination of colours you might choose to use in a piece of work, will not only be compatible but will be in harmony with each other. Magic indeed : )

Jenny of Woollygathering kindly photographed these locally in East Clare. They were the preliminary shots for a series of Spring cards, taken with the thought of making a collection of greeting cards that celebrate or mark each season. The seed of an idea to be further developed...

These needle felted figures are made without sewing, gluing or patterns, I work from my head. And why I love it..? They are100% Wool. I can take it absolutely anywhere when I'm working on it, (and I do!)without having to think about access to water. There's no clean-up after a work session and I can put it down and pick it up at will. In other words, it's perfect if you have a family, small children. I find I can do it right there at my kitchen table, in between getting up to stir the soup, or soothing my small boy's latest injury ; ) And I love the sound of it, of the fibres entangling with every stroke of the needle. Three-dimensional work was not a strength for me at art college and as I have mostly worked in two dimensions, I've found that the soft sculpture work really has developed my sense of that, and brought me on in ways I didn't expect : )

I cherish the way handwork can make you feel like you're making something out of nothing. It is just so with this process, you start out with tufts of coloured fluff and end up with a figure you can hold and place, and look to. Enchanting, no? 

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Spring Felt
You know that first moment when you dig out last year's sandals, dust them off and slip your feet in? Cast aside the tights and boots?.. I'm there!

In honour of Spring, Mel another crafty mama in our school Craft Group recently guided us through some lovely simple projects with pure wool felt and handsewing. We began with a little gnome in a bed..

 followed by a session where we made our own felt from which to fashion these mama and baby birds.. 

The babe slots snugly into the mama's winged back... very endearing.
The difference between using felt that you buy and making your own, is immeasurable. With handmade felt you are master of the colour, the thickness and the texture.
I've always loved the element of surprise that awaits, upon the completion of a creative process. Wet-into-wet watercolours have this quality. You merely touch the wet paper with a loaded brush, and whoosh ...you never know exactly where the colour will spread or how it will look when it dries.

Wet Felting is like this in the most delicious way. I almost feel like the wool comes alive in my hands in the felting process. All my attachment and intention when I carefully place the wool in the first stage, I happily let go of when I sprinkle the hot soapy water in the second stage. For the felt will go its own way. I love that! The fibres grow together and eventually the most amazing texture rises...a characteristic you can neither predict or necessarily design. One way or another the wool will surprise you. 

And, brilliantly, all those separate layers of loose soft fibres integrate to produce a fabric so strong, it cannot be pulled apart. Here, I had a go at a three-dimensional piece, making a wet felted Vessel. This, I'm really interested in taking further, but more on that later.

Getting a little carried away here, I know ; )

And with birdsong delightfully in the air again, eggs were on our minds...

For anyone with a young child in their lives and the inclination to craft with them, this is such a lovely project to share. You'll find a tutorial here. There's a beautiful array of coloured wool available at the Woolly Gathering shop for this, or try your local craft supplies shop. It was magic to do this with my son, he adored the felting process.

and is enchanted with his egg babe..

It's so meaningful for a child to play with a toy born of their own hands. It connects them closely to the natural world, when you can so simply help them trace the journey from sheep on the hill, which we see all around us, to wool, to their handwork, to beloved toy!

In a later session, Jenny led us in the making of felted playscapes. Essentially a natural mat for imaginative play. When I took mine home to dry, this simple felted piece ended up totally capturing my imagination, and that of a certain small boy too ; )
I put one of my walnut babies on the pond (this made me think of Moses in his basket) watched over by a Woodland Elder, and already a story was forming in my mind...

 I gathered some other small things I've made over the months, and some natural bits we've collected on walks and popped them all on the floor. Then, my small boy took it to a whole other level, with much loftier ideas indeed!
He placed what he told me was a bench for the gnomes to rest on by the water...And so started the first story.

In a later version...the little pebbles needed to go just so...

"The ducks are pushing the babies around in their boats Mommy"...

When little friends came to play and began setting up a farm on the floor, I was touched by how much it seemed to enrich their play when I slipped in the playscape. All in a moment, the animals had a context, their feet rested on soft green. The meadow had a boundary. The pond asked for ducks...the stream asked for stepping stones.
When they had so thoughtfully set their scene, I said to Jenny's four year old son "I like the way you put the bumblebee beside the gnome." "Ya," he said "they're getting married."  : ) 

 Let the stories begin!

Timeless Stitching

I had a real soft-spot for my Grandmother, one that ran deep. As an art student in my early twenties I would catch the bus about once a month to spend the weekend with her in County Limerick. A traditional hot meal always lay ready for me and an old-fashioned nightie lay neatly folded on the spare bed.

She would sit by the range knitting, two needles clicking away in the still evening as we caught up. It helped keep arthritis from crippling the hands she'd heard, and she repeated this to me somewhat hopefully! I'd join her later with my crochet. I had the basic stitches then and I went through a stage of making cushion covers for friends and family, made of the granny square stitch. I knew nothing of wool then, of the value of natural fibres and the amazing qualities of pure wool. I doubt I ever gave a second thought to the origins of the yarns I used. I simply sought the very cheapest and the very brightest. Acrylic, inevitably! Nana seemed to find both the garish colour combinations and the openwork of the crochet itself somewhat exotic, relative to her stoic, undyed wool and solid aran stitching. This amused me as, for me she was a master of her craft and despite those neon colours, mine paled in comparison.

When the making of aran jumpers had become too heavy and involved for her as she aged, she moved to knitting panels. Strips of cablework that would then be attached to the sleeves and collars of jumpers machine-knit by another woman. For this, she was paid a meagre fee and the assembled jumpers were then labelled 'handcrafted' and sold, mostly to tourists. She was glad of the ongoing arrangement I think, the work helped her keep active, the bit of pocket money handy in whatever small way.

By the Sunday afternoon of my stay, loathe as I was to return to my cold, grubby flat in the city, she would always send me on my way with a batch of freshly baked scones wrapped in wax paper to share with my flatmates. Welcome indeed on a Sunday night!

Looking back, I envy those quiet amiable evenings sitting together by the range, the turf burning warm, when she'd often ask me to sing a song for her as we stitched away. I'm not sure if I fully appreciated then the richness of those times but I cherish the thought of it now.

Here she is knitting away as her great-granddaughter plays around her.

Years passed, other creative pursuits took over and in the meantime I'd all but forgotten how to use the humble hook. Until recently, through my involvement in my son's school craft group, I became interested in crochet again and realised I still love it somehow, but yearn to find life beyond the granny square. I never managed to progress past the bare basics and the very idea of being able to follow a pattern seemed way beyond me. So, how to move beyond these frustratingly limited skills I know I share with many..?

Enter Liz, our dear friend and Crochet Queen...check out her beautiful shop here . This girl can dream up her designs as she goes! And I realise, every beginner needs a mentor, no? So I was thrilled at the opportunity to become involved with these Woolly Gatherings.

Hence, here are my very humble beginnings. As a refresher, the first thing I made was this hook roll. It was novel to make something that is everyday useful. This is the first pattern I ever managed to follow through to the end, and while its not perfect, hey, it worked out! This pure wool Noro yarn is really vibrant but I'm not sure I'd recommend it to beginners as it varies a lot in thickness as you go.

At the first of our Woolly Gatherings Liz bravely started us off with a simple pattern for wrist warmers. One pair made in an evening and decorated the next. Deep Satisfaction!

I cannot explain how I have become besotted with such things of late, as buttons, ribbons, embroidery hoops (what..?!) and of course yarn, glorious yarn. Like a child in a sweet shop, even our modest local haberdashery can have me all in a sweat! All number of possibilities, but I settled on ribbon, buttons and embroidery and really had fun with that part on my second go:

These days, I'm interested in where the wool comes from and I try, where possible to buy Irish, or at least Celtic! Here's the lovely Donegal Aran Tweed. Really affordable and very hard wearing. From my favourite local wool shop.

And, for old times sake...? Ye old granny square. And who knows, maybe another cushion cover in the making.. but this time in pure cotton that I got here, a pure pleasure to work in. I worked with a size 3.5 hook. I'd really recommend this particular yarn to beginners, as your stitches will be clearly visible without any of the fuzziness of wool, it makes any mistakes easy to see and ripping back is a breeze. .

If you can get over the name of the website! I found this a really fun inspiration ; )

Then, Valentines was in the air and Liz helped us find our way through this surprisingly tricky heart pattern:

but at our last gathering (for now) Liz presented us with what must surely be the mother of all flower patterns, and voila! The petals seemed to unfurl before our very eyes as we stitched...

And I remember... that in contrast to the need for solitude while working on a painting, which is my background, I do love sittin round a table with a bunch of women, stitching, helping each other out and sharing patterns. Thank you Liz!

As a result of these sessions, I'm in the process of beginning my first ambitious project, a cotton waistcoat for meself. Yikes! One thing I've discovered through bitter experience is that the tension swatch is essential, though I really want to dodge this part of the pattern. I'll write again to let you know how it works out. I'll actually feel like I've arrived somewhere when I can make my own clothes : )

Joining the local steiner school community has raised my awareness of the importance of wearing natural, breathable fibres and the insulating layer provided by wool, particularly in our climate. I got to thinking about the aran jumpers that I wore at different ages, and perusing old photo albums, I was really struck by the presence of these handknits, down through the generations and differing social contexts. Like here's my mother at home in Kerry in the sixties, with her brother and sister, going to the well for water

And here she is wearing an Aran at work, in New York where she'd emigrated and gotten a job in a bank..

Here's me at three years old wearing one of the many made by my grandmother. (over a dress that a dear friend had crocheted for me!)

And years later, this Aran Cardigan also made by my Grandmother, which proved a worthy ally day and night against the cold and wind, in my cycling and caravan years in Dingle. These jumpers truly stand the test of time.

And so... work in progress, a connection to my past rekindled, to the historical context of traditional handcrafts in Ireland and to that dear old lady working peacefully by the fire.


sam said...
Love the way you write about your grandmother and you write so beautifully. I want more..and an aran jumper!
Elisheva said...
This is a wonderful blog!!!! So lovely to hear of your grandmother- this is how are hands are meant to work. Thank you kindly for the lovely mentions of myself. You have a beautiful touch with all you create and your crochet is no different. I so enjoyed the crochet classes and will write soon on my own perspective of the classes. Looking forward now to knitting with Sara. Write again soon Mia, wont you? xx E
Franci said...
Wow, what a lovely read! I love the old pictures....especially you at 3....I would think that was a recent picture of Luka! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and memories. Wonderfully written....I look forward to reading more. Franci
onegoldensun said...
What beautiful crochet and knitting. It is such a pleasure to visit your blog! Lovely seeing all the inspiration here. Best wishes, Emily
The Way of the Peaceful Parent www.peaceful-parent.com said...
Marie - what a beautifully visual descriptive stories of your lovely times with your gran, lovely to connect in to your world again my friend - I see you still love turquoise. Lots of love from me, Dan, Oisin (14!) and Ayesha (8). Genevieve xxxx