travelling and spinning

Some months ago I was given a brown paper feed bag of sightly anonymous  white wool from France, apart from being quite yellow and quite full of vegetable matter I knew nothing about it. I decided that it would be my general purpose wool to  use for my dyeing samples and also my idea would be to spin enough to knit myself a jumper from it. I’ve been washing basins of it instead of cleaning the whole lot in one go, and when I’ve had a moment I card enough to keep me happily spinning.

I’m spinning finely  and then plying it which will give me a reasonable weight to knit up as Fair Isle, which is the plan once  I get around to do some more dyeing.

Finished 2 ply washed and skeined wool alongside freshly spun singles on a very full spindle with the unscoured raw yellow coloured fleece. The spindle holds about 200 metres of yarn.

It’s taking some time to prepare and spin, but I’m in no hurry, I spin when I am able, it’s not a full time occupation for me, which brings me to the title. I’m happy to spin anywhere I can and I usually have a bag of rolags and a spindle in my bag wherever I go. It’s fascinating, for me, to watch people watching me whenever I’m on the bus or the train. I don’t need a lot of space, admittedly a little slower when I am sitting down instead of standing up, but every draft is another few feet of yarn and it soon adds up. There are lots  of surreptitious glances and even the odd photograph taken  by a phone, if only they realised that I would be more than happy to talk to them about the process. Drop spinning to me, even after a few years, is almost magical and the idea that a handful of loose fibres transforms into a  coherent thread is a wonderful thing. When I give my talks on fleece to pleats, I always get a moment of silence when the audience realise what is happening, which is only  further emphasized when I  tell them that it was way all yarn was made until at least 1250, and on some countries the spinning wheel is still a fairly recent introduction. The idea that you can walk  and spin at the same is perhaps the point where most people see how  a stick and a whorl could actually   be capable of producing miles and miles of thread.

So back to my bus journey of a few days ago, I got off  a mile or so away from  home and walked back spinning as I went, in fact walked back happily spinning, a few people looked and some cars slowed down but perhaps I’m already enough of an oddity ,  no comments at all. It did make me realise, that drop spinning on the  go is a perfectly good way of spinning, yes the thread broke once or twice, but thee spindle was easily caught without damage and the thread re-joined. It was a dry day, and a little windy and the spindle did catch the breeze, but it worked so well that I think that perhaps  whenever I go walking in the future I won’t want to miss out on creating  yards of yarn.

 

 

Kilt alterations

It seems to go with the job of a kiltmaker that they end up doing alterations, to be fair I don’t mind very much, but it’s seldom straightforward as you never really know what to expect once you start to open up the lining and look inside. Perhaps that challenge is exactly what makes me still do them, but I know some makers who will only adjust or alter their own kilts.
There isn’t a single way to make a kilt, and as they are usually expensive items many makers try and find short cuts. Some of these  seem reasonable, like a little extra machine sewing to save time over hand seweing, but I do draw the line at iron-on interfacing instead of pad stitched hair canvas. This, time heavy tailoring process,however is one of main shortcuts that one  of the largest commercial kilt maker uses. In fact they are the supplier to various British Army regiments, so it must work, although I suspect cost cutting is not only on the mind of those kiltmakers but also in the mind of the Quartermasters. A few years ago it was rumoured that all kilt making was going to be out sourced to the subcontinent, because of an economy drive that was stopped because of a public outcry, but I do wonder if the kilts would have looked  or been constructed any differently.

The most frequent alteration I am asked to do is so try and  make the kilt a little larger, in time most  gentlemen’s waists get a little bigger, and despite the kilt having an adjustment range of plus/minus 4″ it’s often not enough. Moving buckles and straps works for an an extra 2″ , but any more than that means that some extra  unpicking and sewing is needed. Most simple buckle moving can be completed within a few hours, so almost while you wait.

The kilt on the table at the moment is quite the reverse, it was sized at about  a 52″ waist and needs to be reduced to about a 44″, this is a rather major job. For the client the loss of weight is certainly a good thing, but for a kilt maker it adds may challenges. The main issue was that the front apron overlapped the pleats at the side by more than 6″ , catching on them and proving to be very annoying, and the fact that it just didn’t feel right.Obviously the  buckles and straps were in the wrong place as well, and the kilt was no longer centred.

To solve the problem the kilt had to be largely disassembled and put back again with fewer pleats. The waistband was removed, 4 pleats on either side were unpicked and then the excess fabric cut out, and the newly exposed edges sewn back together again. Doing it this way meant I didn’t have to resew all the pleats, and as the inside of the pleats had been cut out already I couldn’t have just unpicked the whole thing successfully.

There was no original stabiliser and precious little canvas, so all new support materials were needed.

After that the aprons were reduced by a few inches as well so  a new fringe was created , I  added a triple instead of the existing double, then the waistband was sewn back on, and  original buckles   but new tabs and leather were sewn on in the new spots All  the kilt needed a very thorough steam press to remove the previous fold and crease lines, although some bits were pressed at several stages during the remaking.

There was a  lot of slightly crude stitching as well, for example on the bottom edge,

which I removed and replaced with something a little more subtle!

The lining was beyond   re-use, so I’ll get some more plain black cotton over the next few days, once that is done and a complete repress, hopefully it will be as good as new, and  once again in a fitting condition.

finished alterations, 8 pleats fewer, buckles repositioned properly

Altering a kilt is something that takes time and effort, depending on the changes needed costs do mount up, a simple buckle position change means that the kilt can be worn again and is given a whole new lease of life, major changes need to be more carefully considered, as the work gets close to  completely sewing a kilt from scratch, with the exception that sometimes the actual tartan was a special weave or difficult to get hold of so the decision is much easier to make.

Queen Anne’s Lace

Queen Anne’s Lace blossoms

Queen Anne’s Lace is everywhere around my neighbourhood at the moment I’ve often seen it mentioned in dye books, but until yesterday hadn’t done anything with the rather delicate flowers.
I’d been told they can give a good yellow, and  as it is easy to find, and free , it was worth a test or two

I picked about 20 or so  heads,  soaked them in boiling water overnight, and I also soaked some handspun 2 ply in a 15% Alum solution as well.

Each skein was simmered for  about 30 mins,  and then some were treated with modifiers, I was happily surprised to see how bright the yellow  was, and after a washing soda rinse  lost a little of the greenishness and became slightly more eggy. All told a successful morning, and I’ll be very happy to try it again.

There are a few names for Queen Anne’s Lace, Daucus carota ,  part of the wild carrot family

sensitivity on kilt attire

A post on facebook caused quite a lot of comments over the last few days and it been been occupying my thoughts far too much, it’s best that I don’t give  all the details, but it was all about fashion and style and how a kilt is worn, or more precisely how some people thought a kilt should be worn.

The original poster, who is very proud of his outfit as he had a hand in designing it, frequently posts photographs of himself in various guises –   sometimes more formal and sometimes more casual – but largely it’s the same kilt with different accessories. Nothing wrong with that so far, but the photo in question raised the ire of a few people who decided that they knew best. Various comments were made about colour combinations, which while perhaps fair as an opinion were made fairly bluntly, and the kilt wearer took them to heart. As a kilt wearer myself ,I know to expect comments wherever I go, usually favourable but not always and I know that either I try to deal with them in an  unemotional way, or simply ignore them and move on. Social media is a little different, many people feel a freedom to say things that I doubt very much  they would in person, and unless you are prepared for that, feelings will get hurt, which is exactly what happened. The kilt wearer answered some of the comments in a similarly blunt way and of course things escalated. He left in high dudgeon, deleted the thread, left the group ( he had only become an admin a few days before) and then proceeded in other groups to tell his woes.

I’ve been a member of the original group for sometime, and there are so many unbelievable comments or statements  about Scotland, tartan, or kilts that it is almost laughable, and those views are incredibly strongly held, and immovable, if any attempt is made to try as discuss those thoughts the thread disintegrates very quickly. Things like:  I’ve traced my family tree to  – William Wallace, or Robert the Bruce, or Rabbie Burns, any of which is rather difficult to do, read impossible in truth really, but people do believe the strangest things sometimes. To be fair it’s not all  posters in the States, who often have a rather rosy idea of their history, but there are all some very strongly  minded people in Scotland as well, so the fault lies with both.

Sometimes I long for a reasoned discussion, often forgetting I’m looking in the wrong place.

But back to the original photograph, I have to say that I’m not so keen on the outfit in question, it’s all a bit much, and the colour combinations don’t work for me, I’m not usually afraid of strong colours or bold combinations, but it this case it didn’t quite work. I’d never have said anything as it’s his kilt,and his choice, and entirely up to him what he chooses. I do think though that if you put up a photograph of yourself in a bold look, you can expect a certain degree of negativity as well, and if you don’t you are being a bit naive really. I’m sure we have all posted things we were especially  pleased with, just to feel deflated with some discouraging comment. So it’s up to all of us to be strong  within ourselves and not to allow ourselves to be hurt too much, easy to say of course , but I don’t think we can expect, when people on social media are able to post their opinions so openly and directly, that people will necessarily be kind and supportive all the time. Leaving one group and then complaining on another one of the earlier bad treatment isn’t a very helpful solution either.
I  would have loved to have ventured an opinion, but I’ve known this poster for many years and I know how sensitive he is to any form of critique, although he is very forthright, and frequent, in  declaring his Scottish style, he doesn’t always easily accept reasonable  comments, which would be meant kindly, but it is hard to  hear a written post in the way it might have been said.

There are some posters who just seem to want to start a row, disagreeing with the smallest of details, I think we have to learn that whilst they have an opinion, it’s not widely shared and should be treated accordingly.

I suppose my thoughts are to whether when I post a photo I should expect nice or nasty responses, either way I should take  all of the comments with a pinch of salt, not to act in  haste, and just accept graciously that not everyone thinks the same as me, and certainly not to lose any sleep over them!

illustrated talks

I was asked yesterday after I gave a talk at Kingston University, if I had a website listing of the different talks I do, the answer was no, so this will hopefully  rectify the omission .

I am happy to give talks to  groups in an informal setting, ranging from school rooms to church halls, from 20 to 50 adults.

Each event takes the form of an talk with lots of examples and samples, and I encourage the audience to ask questions and examine the items throughout the 45 mins – 60 mins. Each talk can be tailored to different groups, perhaps by focusing on a particular interest.

I only need a well light space and a couple of tables, I don’t normally have any need of computers or electrical equipment.

I have currently 4 talks available

1 From fleece to pleats

Fleece to pleats

An introduction to the word of wool, spinning, weaving,dyeing, tartan, and  kilt making.
I discuss the history of wool, demonstrate spinning, talk about the development of weaving and the history of tartan, finishing with a “show and tell” of how a kilt is made.

This talk  is an excellent overview of wool and tartan, covering a lot of ground very quickly, but it has proved to be one of my most popular bookings

2 Natural Dyeing

An introduction to the world of natural dyeing,  from early mud dyeing of 5000 BC right through to the discovery of the first synthetic dye in 1856.

With lots of samples of dyed wools, grouped by the history and development of colourants , and samples of many of the various dyestuffs and chemicals used,I discuss the history and manufacture of coloured textiles.

3 Bookbinding

An introduction to the history of books, from the beginnings on papyrus, through mediaeval bindings to mass produced paperbacks, I show examples of all the major styles. Discussion and handling of samples is important to the talk and everyone has the chance to handle wood, leather, paper and linen thread.
I also show a range of contemporary art bindings using glass,knitted cloth, ceramics, carved wood, and silk as cover materials.
I also offer a selection of bookbinding workshops, from simple pamphlets to multi section collections. These workshops can be tailored for all ages, young and old!  Contact me to discuss further details.  see below for a video produced for an earlier class, but it gives an idea of how a class can work.

 

4 Ceramics

A quick tour through the basics of pottery tracing the development of ceramics  from hand pinched pots to industrial mass-produced dinner services.

Using historic and contemporary examples there is ample opportunity for discussion of different styles and types from around the world, with an emphasis on decorative techniques.