Thursday, 30 September 2010

A party political broadcast from the Craft Is Not For Sad People party

I was reading the Guardian this morning because I live in Cambridge and it is compulsory, and there was an article about how everyone at the Labour Conference was grumpy that Ed Miliband has been elected as the new Labour leader. There were quotes from people about how this would mean a return to the wilderness, and how now they were out of power the stuff at the conference was no longer dynamic and exciting but was back to things like ‘one-legged knitting circles’. (This is a bit of a confusing image. I think the person meant knitting circles comprised of one-legged people or, let’s be honest, women. If that person could knit they’d probably have developed enough discipline of thought to formulate a more convincing metaphor). Anyway, this got me thinking. I know some people still think crafts in general are a bit sad, although it is crafts which are traditionally associated with women which mostly attract this kind of casual contempt. I don’t encounter these people often because I don’t go round googling ‘is knitting a bit sad lolz’, and people I meet in real life are normally quite polite about my creations, indeed often they are whipping them out of my hands and spiriting them away (waves to mum).

When I was growing up, though (I am nearly 36, God how did that happen, so I was a teenager in the eighties), you Did Not Do Crafts. It was not fashionable. You only made things if you couldn’t afford to buy them, and if you couldn’t afford to buy things, well, this was not admired. The eighties did not do thrift where I was born, the eighties did consumption. From proper shops. It was my misfortune that somehow I had needlecraft right in my bones from birth. Oh, the difficulties I faced. Hoarding old copies of The People’s Friend in my wardrobe in secret, like pornography, and drooling over the sewing pages. Hanging surreptitiously around the one craft shop in Chesterfield hoping not to bump into anyone I knew and suffer social death. Quivering in embarrassment behind the embroidery flosses. Doing needlepoint in secret. It is a tragic tale of a double life. I went to a very traditional university – twice! Because I don’t learn from my mistakes! - and I suspect my tutors would have rather I sold ecstasy to supplement my grant and wandered the streets drunk and naked apart from my sub fusc than knit a scarf, because I think any kind of craft work would have been seen as a retrograde, unintellectual, silly thing to do. I don’t think I bought a craft book without embarrassment until I was quite a good way into my twenties.

So I am obviously pleased that crafting has been so wonderfully reclaimed and I can now go into a shop and buy Yarn Forward without having to look shiftily at the man behind the till, but also I think crafting is a hugely political act in itself. Because I think being involved in the creation of anything, no matter how small or wonky or odd, stops you being a stupid consumer. It is a cliché but it is true. Step one, learn to knit/ sew/ crochet, step 2, walk through every shop on the high street muttering to your increasingly despairing companion, I could make this myself and it would look better. Since I started making my own stuff and buying handmade I have made permanent changes to the way I buy, live, and think about things, and I suspect many other crafters have done the same. E.g. I now question much more how things are produced, and have altered my buying habits: I feel a sense of connection with crafters before me: I question the nature of productive work which has made me more political: I value cumulative effort, learned skill etc more than I did before. So what I am (finally) getting to is that if the Labour conference had actually had a knitting circle, that might have been one of the more effective political workshops taking place there, because not only do I think craft can be transformative but also someone might have got a pair of socks out of it. And they could have given them to David to make him feel better. (Possibly there wouldn’t have been long enough for an actual pair of socks. Let’s say a chunky cowl).

That was a party political broadcast from the Craft Is Not For Sad People party. Normal service will be resumed tomorrow!

Wednesday, 29 September 2010

WIP Wednesday: The Quilt of Dooooooooooooooom

Hooray it’s WIP Wednesday again which as well as being delightfully alliterative lets me prove to all of us, and myself, that I do occasionally create things and don’t just sit about eating biscuits and muttering. So thank you again to Tami from Tami’s Amis and if you want to see who else is taking part (and how much better their stuff is than mine, natch) then get on over to her blog.

Firstly though, I’d like to share with you my relief that my swap package arrived with its recipient – she is blogging about it on her blog here, go and look, and I am so pleased she likes it, because this was my first swap and I was terrified I would do it wrong. So all is well and I am very pleased indeed that imaginethatanid likes what I bought her, even though I read on her blog that she lives within visiting distance of the Wollmeise shop* (yes!) and was nearly paralysed with stage fright, thinking, there is nothing I can give to someone who has the Wollmeise shop on their doorstep, I might as well stuff a few balls of fun fur in an Asda carrier bag and go and weep in a corner. But all is well so hooray!
Admire my juxtaposition of Marcus Aurelius's meditations with Bridget Jones. I am postmodern, postfeminist and eclectic. Go me
Now onto WIPs. Firstly, this is my pixie-hat-in-progress, using the beautiful Manos del Uruguay I myself got from Xtiand in the Blog Hub swap, and the Woolly Wormhead pattern I won from Gradschoolknitter (I’ve had quite a lucky week, haven’t I?). This is its second incarnation, because my first attempt seemed to be starting out quite big, so I have gone down a needle size and am now knitting the small size and it seems fine (I am hoping it won’t look like one of those things you put on top of Innocent smoothies when it is finished). The Manos is beautiful and I particularly like the depth of colour. It’s a quick, easy pattern, but with enough going on to keep you interested, and I’m enjoying knitting it. Not like the soul-sucking quilt of doom:
It will kill me. It will kill me dead
This quilt has not been easy. It has involved blood. It has involved cutting out 324 identical squares. It has involved pulling a buttock muscle leaning over the cutting board in a way that convinced me I had developed a deep vein thrombosis (I hadn’t developed a deep vein thrombosis). And then in my weakened state, cross eyed from cutting *&%@@ blue strips, I went into the garden to put some nuts out for the squirrel and something bit me eight times on my foot. Eight times! I know it is a stretch to blame the quilt for that, but sod it I am going to. I am now about a quarter of the way through piecing it and if I actually like it when I finish it you must forget this rant, and we will pretend I made it with Love and filled it right up to its adorable brim with Positive Karma.
Does my bum look big in this? Yes, it looks monstrous but directional
And this is my almost-WIP. I am going to make the skirt on the right. I have got as far as cutting it out and will have a crack at it as soon as I have burnt the quilt and danced a jig on the ashes finished the quilt carefully and competently. I don’t think it will be complicated: I do think it will be unwearable, as I have seen it in the shop and it made the mannequin look like the Venus of Willendorf. Now, I am quite a bit bigger than the mannequin was, and although obviously I admire the Venus of Willendorf from a feminist perspective I am not quite evolved enough that I can take her as a fashion icon. Anyway I will make it, and we will see how rough I look. Doesn’t that sound fun? Watch this space!

* For those of you non-Ravelry-obsessed people, Wollmeise is the Sine Qua Non of Yarn. It is the Ultimate. It is as desirable and as difficult to get as the Hermès Birkin bag. I believe it changes hands for huge amounts of money and possibly firstborn children on Ebay. No wars have yet been started over a skein of Wollmeise Sockenwolle but, well. It’s a narrow line.

Monday, 27 September 2010

Days 6 & 7 of the Blog Hub swap and a Lucky Win!

Hello again, one last quick update while I wait for the bleeding to stop before I get back to cutting out my quilt (rotary cutter) and to chasing Gary The Plumber about the new bathroom (home improvements. Do not do it) to show you my final swap parcel goodies (excuse the lack of light, there just isn't any):

Some handcream and a really nice cowl pattern. Well, my hands have now entered Dry Winter Mode so the handcream has already been in use, and I think this is a really lovely pattern, which is, in fact, going to make me say something you will never, ever hear me say again, so pay attention: I would really like to knit one in cream. In fact, I think this would be an absolutely perfect pattern for some rare-breed sheep wool, so I may have a bit of a poke round at some point to see if I can find something. So thanks again, Xtiand, this has been a great swap and I have loved everything you got for me. In fact, this has been my first ever swap (can you believe it, gosh), so, what a nice introduction to swapping. I only hope the parcel for my own swappee gets there soon.

And it has been a good weekend all around, because yesterday I woke up to the thrilling news that Gradschoolknitter had picked me as a winner in her lost mojo competition, and I had won a paid-for pattern from Ravelry! Now, the funny thing was that on Saturday I had been browsing Woolly Wormhead’s hat patterns and wondering whether to try one, and this decided me, so I picked the Ribba cap, and Gradschoolknitter bought it for me. Well, it is here, downloaded, printed, and cast on, and I will show you my progress on Wednesday. I am very pleased with it. I have already had sarcastic comments about knitting a hat with a pointy top but I have been wanting to knit a hat with a pointy top for a while, so, I do not listen to these things (the same person, whose identity you can probably guess because it was Partner, has also called my quilt ‘geeky’, because ‘all quilts are geeky’. They are not!). Also I have been admiring Woolly Wormhead for a while, so I am interested to see what it turns out like – so far it seems a nice, well-written pattern, not that that will necessarily stop me messing it up chiz chiz.

Well, that is the end of the blog hub swap, boo, and now I’m afraid from now on we’ll have to go back to my unfocused ramblings. I will warn you that I have had many, many thoughts on British wool, the practicalities of recreating a particular Alexander McQueen skirt, the prevalence of pastry and mashed potato in British cuisine, quilting, and the evils of Tesco. I can promise you no more tarantulas for the moment though (because I dreamed about one last night. They're getting to me).

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Days 4 & 5 of the Blog Hub Swap

Just popping in to take a break from cutting 324, yes, 324, 3 1/2” squares for a quilt (no, it’s ok, I have gone right through despair and am now on the other side), to show you days 4 and 5 of the Blog Hub swap:
Look, we had sunshine! That threw me
Some tiny Moleskine notebooks and a lovely collection of retro buttons! Aren’t they sweet? And a close up of the buttons:
The cat has a cheerfully lugubrious expression. As they often do
Thank you Xtiand, these will come in really useful and the notebooks will (hopefully) stop me writing things on the back of the gas bill, and then forgetting to pay the gas bill. I am off on to Ravelry now to see if I can find a nice neckwarmer or something that will show off the buttons. Honestly, I’m very impressed with my swap parcel, it’s as if someone has put all the kinds of things I like through a good taste filter, and this is the result. I’m only disappointed that the remaining parcels don’t seem to be oven-roasted Tarantula shaped.

In other news, we were encouraged this weekend to learn, while going through his money, that someone, at least, loves Partner:
A missed speech-bubble opportunity if ever I saw one
I am not aware, however, that Jesus has ever attempted to put up a flat-pack bookcase with Partner, as I have. Why not try that, Jesus, without an electric screwdriver, and see if you still love him afterwards.

Friday, 24 September 2010

The Friday Interview: Jennifer from From The Fig Tree

Today’s interview is with Jennifer (Fig) from From The Fig Tree.
Fig from From The Fig Tree
One of the things that really sold me on Etsy when I discovered it a few years ago were the clothes. It was just at the point where there was loads of publicity about the conditions clothes from chain stores were produced in (and just as a side note, I’m not sure the big firms have gone much beyond lip service even now: check out Clean Up Fashion for up to date info on how they’re dealing with their suppliers; Asda seem to come out particularly badly. Also Labour Behind The Label), and to find somewhere where I could buy direct from people making their own clothes, with creativity, craftsmanship and love, was fantastic. I particularly loved how clothes were made to be worn and worn, and to fit and look good on different sizes: it was such a different philosophy from high street fashion. Needless to say, From The Fig Tree has been one of my favourites since I first found etsy, and I’ve got a few pieces from her which I’ve worn and loved for ages. Indeed she made me a custom magic skirt which I wore right through quite a dark time in my life, and which was, shall we say, a cheerful companion on the way ;-). So I was thrilled when she agreed to be interviewed! Here are her responses below.

1/ How would you describe your clothes and what you do?
I love the idea of community, it's something I aspire to create in the modern world. When I make clothing I often look to tribal cultures, Native, Gypsy and Vagabond people.

2/ Do you feel you’re part of the ‘Fashion Industry’? (In quotes?).
Most of what the big names of fashion do is search out trends and scout to see what other people are wearing. Then they make the designs their own and market them to their audience. So I suppose I am unwillingly part of the fashion industry. I really try to stick with things that I want to wear, clothing I need to fit into my life. I don't worry so much about what trends are, I think of things I would like to wear and make that for others. It does not always fit in with the status quo. I think there is a big push to move away from mass produced big label companies and either make it yourself, or to support independent artists. Not only are you rewarding makers, but rewarding yourself with a item made by a craftsperson.

3/ How did you start sewing, and what advice would you give to someone who was interested in making clothes? 
I would tell anyone who is just starting out to try it all. Even if you think it cant be done, you learn so much from trying. Often your experiments will take on a life of their own and you never know where it will take you. I started sewing by hand because I did not have access to a sewing machine, my first project was a leopard print tube top from the car seat of a Karmaan Gia that we had sitting in our front yard. Eventually, a friend of mine saw that I was truly interested in sewing and offered me her Old Riccar Sewing machine that had very little use on it. That machine was a lifesaver. It is a relief to go from taking an hour to sew a seam to ten seconds! Soon after I began taking Dance classes and was making outfits for the women in my class all the while selling at concerts and making extra cash there. I wasnt perfect, but I did have a good grasp of what I wanted to see myself wearing and was able to put colors together and mix up the style a bit.

4/ I really love your patchwork style of clothing. How did you develop this, and was it influenced by recycling/ using up fabric?
At the time I started sewing, I was a new mom and had very little money or resources. So I learned to use what I had and nothing was off limits! From Car seats to bedsheets I was using whatever I had on hand to create and eventually sell. I would take clothes that no longer fit and chop them up into patchwork items. I found the local thrift store and began using vintage fabrics, I got word out that I would love to take fabric off of anyones hands who is not using it. Soon I was accepting donations from friends and family for fabric (and sewing lessons!). I learned to use every scrap out of necessity and soon learned it was good for the environment as well. My son was a huge blessing in my life and really shaped me into the artist I am now.
Mum and son!
5/ You say in your etsy shop that you’ve been ordained Priestess of the Sacred Dance by Caya Coven: this sounds fantastic. Do you find that your spiritual beliefs inform/ enrich your work?
Certainly! I feel that everything carries energy with it. I sing songs of blessing when I sew, I bless my thread, my machine and all the tools I work with so that we can work together to create a garment designed specifically for someone.  When the piece is complete I have it sit on the altar at our full moon rituals. Then it is continually carrying the energy of Goddess and the Magic of community in it. This helps me have a better appreciaton for the materials I work with and connects me to the people I create for.  Sewing really changed my life, its not just something I do to make money or get famous. I really needed an outlet and a talent that I could own.

6/ Which of your designs are you most excited about/ enjoying making at the moment?
I really enjoy my SugarBritches at the moment. If I could wear them everyday I would and they offer so much variation that they are constantly fresh to me. They are great for when I like the look of a skirt, but really want to wear pants. They are both! [Note from me, I can vouch for this – I’ve got some Sugar Britches, and they are fabulous].

7/ Are there any other clothing/ other designers you admire that you’d like to tell us about?
Hazel at is a major inspiration to me. She creates some of the most beautiful unique pieces that I have ever laid eyes on! Truly someone I admire and respect.

Thank you Fig, that was great, your answers are really interesting! You can see From the Fig Tree clothing in her Etsy shop (and I am particularly liking the Duster Jacket at the moment, I think that looks lovely).

Have a good weekend everyone – I shall be popping in with more blog hub swap goodness and hopefully doing a bit of patchwork as well, because I’ve splashed out on a rotary board and cutter (it’s bloody huge. I must learn to measure things before I buy them. I really, really must).

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Day Three of the Blog Hub Swap and a Terrible Regret

So, today is the handmade part of the Blog Hub Swap, but before I reveal what it is, I shall just share with you my regrets about the parcel I sent off to my own swap partner. Because yesterday we poked our noses into Fortnum and Mason to see if there were any enormously heavy biscuit tins any of our number might wish to buy and carry doggedly all the way back to St Pancras – and there were!
I feel I have very effectively captured the glamour of the man wheeling his trolley
But there were also some other delightful delicacies. Oh, if only I had delayed sending my package just a few more days! I could have included some of these!
Nutty bacon-like taste! You know what also tastes like bacon? Bacon. Stick with bacon
Can you imagine anything more delicious? I couldn’t. Not until I found these, at any rate.
No, I'm afraid it really is an oven-baked tarantula, I checked the ingredients. Feeling faint? Put your head between your knees
Swap partner who doesn’t know who I am, I am so sorry. I know you would probably have given your eye teeth for an oven baked Tarantula. I hear they are actually even more moreish than Pringles. But I’ve missed my chance now and you will have to make do with your non-arachnid-items. I know they’ll seem hollow. Oh, if only I’d waited!

But, regrets aside, today I opened my third parcel from Xtiand, which was a handmade item, and this is what it was.
Isn't that nice? I am very pleased
A pretty embroidered heart! Isn’t that lovely? And I think shadow appliqué may be involved, it is very clever (and something I would be unable to produce myself, because I don’t embroider at all - I once did ‘Bite Me’ in cross stitch but then I didn’t know what to do with it). And what’s particularly apt is that I’d been having this idea for a while to make a collage of hearts to say thank you to all my blog readers for reading my blog, and I decided that since Fate and Xtiand had sent me a heart, this would be the time to do it (although, you can blame me for the cheesiness of this idea and not Xtiand, because her heart is nice although mine may be a bit naff, I mean this non-metaphorically).

So I have made you a collage.
I am aware that the bananas may be pushing it a bit and I don't know how a stray button got in there
Because in all seriousness (serious face, pursed lips), I love getting everyone’s comments, they always give me a laugh or something to think about, and I love reading everyone else’s blogs as well, I learn so much. So, thank you blog readers, and perhaps next time I am near F & M I will pick up a lovely spidery snack and we will have a giveaway. Wouldn’t that be popular? (I jest, I jest).

Tuesday, 21 September 2010

Iiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiit's... The Blog Hub Swap!

Today I came back from a mission to buy the Cheapest Gin Known To Man, because it is nothing but glamour and sophistication chez nous and also because I wanted to make sloe gin (and this was the first time in my life I had ever knowingly seen a sloe! Can you believe that? I actually thought they were a small furry animal. They are not. They are a berry, and I would advise you generally not to get the two confused, because, as in all things, we must remember Richard Whiteley).
I am actually so much like Nigella we are practically indistinguishable
And I found this waiting for me.
A parcel a parcel a parcel! Might it be for me? Gosh might it?
Cue excited squeaking and flapping of arms, because, readers, I have been taking part in the Ravelry Blog Hub Swap. And this was my swap parcel! I opened it up and found a lovely note and explanatory list from my swap partner, Xtiand. For those of you who are not taking part in the Ravelry Blog Hub Swap, we are swapping 7 knitting-and-treat related parcels and blogging about one a day (I’m perhaps not explaining that very well. I defrosted the freezer yesterday and it has finished me off. My intellectual capacity, it has gone, and possibly it was not much in evidence to start with. All will become clear as we go along).

So, you can imagine, I was instantly seized by a moral dilemma. Should I open one parcel per day, or should I open the lot straight away in a parcel-opening frenzy, possibly involving teeth and shredded paper? Head and heart battled briefly and we came to a compromise. As I will be out all day tomorrow and unable to blog, I decided it was morally acceptable for me to do the first two days in one. So I have opened parcels one and two. I accept that this possibly makes me morally bankrupt and certainly makes me no good at delayed gratification, but I will ask you not to judge me too harshly until you SEE THE NICE THINGS!

So, parcel number one.
Please ignore the unsophisticated penguin cake tin in the background. Cake is never far away in this house
Isn’t this lovely? It’s a mug with Herdy on it, who is based on a Herdwick sheep! It’s a local breed! (Local to my lovely swap partner!). Xtiand, I love it that you’ve been reading my blog ;-), and I really like this mug. I love the colour (we have an orange theme in our kitchen!). I love how it combines a minimalist aesthetic with a Sheep, as I think this is a combination we are all striving for. I took a photo of it on the shelf with my other mugs to show you how well it fits in:
That brown mug was handthrown by a Wiccan. True story
And then on to parcel number two. It was squashy. Teeth and shredded paper may have been involved. I had high hopes. They were not disappointed:
Why hello there, Manos. You lookin' for a good time? Possibly involving stocking stitch?
Manos del Uruguay! In the most beautiful saturated teal colour, it is perfect, and I can think of loads of things this wool will be great for, although I will wait to make any decision until I have opened the rest of my parcel. And can you believe that although this is my exact favourite colour, this is the only wool I have in teal? I hear it whispering to me. ‘Susie’, it is whispering. ‘Knit me up into a bold and striking accessory. Knit me now’. Yes, Manos, Yes Yes. I will. We must both be patient. Soon, though, Manos. Soon.

Now, Xtiand, you seem like a nice person. I think it’s unlikely that the rest of the packages are things like bits of twig or empty crisp packets wrapped up, or that any of them are empty but for the words ‘ha ha Sucker’. However, I would like you to know that, even if they are, I am so happy with my first two parcels that I feel you have already discharged your swaply duties, and indeed I am officially designating you a Top Swap Partner. The acronym isn’t glamorous but the intention is good. So I am thrilled in anticipation about opening the next parcels and I will be back on Wednesday with the parcel which contains something homemade. Hooray! You know I love homemade things!

(And in the meantime, if anyone can think of anywhere lovely & different in central London I can go with my mum and Aunty Kath tomorrow, which doesn’t involve too long a tube journey from St Pancras, do leave me a comment. We tend to like buns, tea, shopping and perhaps the occasional non-depressing museum).

Friday, 17 September 2010

The Friday Interview: Nicky from Colour It Green

Hooray, it’s the Friday interview, which means my mother gets ready with her critical faculties and a sharpened pencil so she can give me a trenchant critique over the weekend (aaaaaand I think it’s fair to say she hasn’t entirely got over Keith. I may have to give her his phone number so she can tell him just what she thinks about his opinions).

Today’s interview is with Nicky from Colour It Green, who I met on the wonderful Self Sufficientish and who also has a really good blog detailing various adventures in self sufficiency, dealing with animals, recipes etc. Colour It Green the website is well worth a look as well, as it has a lot of useful resources including really good recipes. Nicky also has a shop - selling wool products from their own sheep. Half of me thinks she has thus achieved Knitting Nirvana, and the other half of me thinks if I had charge of sheep they would probably spend a lot of time cavorting illegally around Cambridge and causing trouble, so it is perhaps best if I stick with buying other people’s wool for the moment.
A needle-felted Hegepig from the Colour It Green shop

Here are the questions!

1/ How would you describe what you make & sell?
Wool from our own sheep. Hand dyed, using either natural or commercial dyes, then carded, handspun, crocheted, felted, or needled felted. Our products range from unspun wool for spinning or other projects, to bowls, cards, pincushions, handspun wool skeins, brooches... etc.  Basically… things from our own wool!

2/ Tell us about your sheep!
At the moment we have six sheep. Sharona [note from me, Sharona!] is the old grumpy girl, and the sheep shown in my avatar. Despite her grumpy looks, she is a sweety and stomps over for a back rub. She is a Devon Closewool, as are our two youngest girls Barbie and Biry. We like the breed, they are friendly and easy going, and the wool is lovely to work with.
A Devon Closewool Sheep, with one bold stare... Sharona! Ooo you make my motor run, motor run
We also have Saffie (she was already called Saffron when we got her.. an odd name for a black sheep perhaps), she is a Zwartbles cross and she is huge! – we can’t turn her, just as well she is so easy going, we can just lift her feet to trim them, as though she was a pony!, and we have her lambs, Bertie and Betty – who is an oddity as she is patchy. We are on an alphabet naming theme now – an idea I stole from another smallholder... hence the B names…
Saffie the Sheep
We have only kept sheep for four years, and it was quite a surprise how much joy they bring. They are friendly, funny, and obviously recognise us.  They come up to us for pats and attention and ever hopeful of an interesting weed being passed over the fence.

We joke that  the pockets of a shepherd should contain foot trimmers, purple spray, dagging shears and an inhaler. The inhaler is for me as I tend to laugh so much as himself is outwitted by a sheep when we are trying to do some routine husbandry. I usually laugh myself into an asthma attack!

3/ There’s been increased awareness recently about the conditions wool is produced in, and the practices that are used to increase yield (e.g. mulesing because some sheep have been bred to have greater skin area). Has having your own sheep made you look differently at wool production from sheep to finished yarn?
Having sheep has made me much more interested in fibre – before I was just a knitter with a large yarn stash – having our own sheep and a partner who is like minded, can you imagine what my yarn stash is like now?! [yes! Note from me!]. It is a wonderful experience to be able to see the wool through from on the sheep, shorn,  washed, dyed, dried, carded, spun and knitted or crocheted, or felted into something. It also focuses the mind on the fact that it starts with an animal, and half the point of rearing our own animals is to give them a good life.

I’m totally against mulesing, and I feel certain it is not necessary. Mulesing is banned in the UK – along with many other countries, and so it is clearly possible to obtain the wool without. It seems odd to me that it is banned as a practice in this country, but the imported goods are still allowed in, so aside from the cruelty issues, it is hard on the farmers to expect them to compete. I’ve made a  personal stance to only buy wool free from mulesing. I do eat meat, I just want to raise the animals in as happy an environment as possible.
The sheep hanging out. Are they taking photographs of us? Hey are they?
4/ Are there any of your products that you particularly enjoy making?
I like all of it. My other half does the spinning – I knit and crochet. But I like it all – it feels like an adventure... each new thing I try leads to several other ideas to have a go at.  I really enjoy blending the colours on my carder, then seeing them transformed into yarn – it’s like colour therapy. I have knitted since I was a child, learned how to crochet last year, and this year decided to have a go at needle felting. I made a cute little hedgehog pin cushion and he sold! I’ve made more since. – I’m addicted already...  So much wool, so little time :-)

5/ Whenever I read your blog (about self-sufficiency on a smallholding) I’m always really inspired by the things you make and do. Working on the assumption that it is all as much fun as it looks ;-), what would you recommend starting with first to someone who wanted to lead a more self-sufficient life?
I recommend starting with a partner with the same frame of mind. [Note from me, hollow laugh ;-)]. Even if you think you will do it all and they don’t have to get involved, the commitment factor means everyone is involved... you can’t just walk out on some seedlings to go on holiday, and livestock are a huge commitment. 

That wasn’t really what you meant though was it? I guess a good starting point would be to grow just a little, even if its just herbs on the windowsill. When I first had a garden I grew tomatoes and courgettes and herbs, so scaling up was not too hard. With livestock…we started with sheep… which was a bit of a leap, but we had the fields that needed either cutting or grazing… logically, a couple of chickens in the back garden is a very good place to start. Chickens are very entertaining, can make good pets, and are more productive than a hamster :-)

Another good way to start is to go for a veg box scheme – particularly if you get one that supplies only seasonal veg – it is a good way to learn about seasonal availability, coping with a glut, making soup etc. and more importantly, how to cook veg you thought you did not like before. Also, if you eat meat, consider buying whole or half an animal at a time, as if you raise it yourself, you will need to learn how to deal with all of the cuts of meat.

6/ Are there any other spinners/ fibre artists whose work you admire, or interesting blogs you’d like to tell us about?
I’m a yarn addict… so I admire many... one of my favourites has to be Prudence Mapstone

I have always been pants at following other people’s instructions. I always want to tweak and alter and make it mine (I’m the same with recipes), so when I discovered the beautiful artwork that is known as freeform.. well I felt I had come home. Not only was it allowed… it is commended! I learned how to crochet just so I can freeform.

I also like to read blogs of other sheep owners around the world... for example Sandra who lives close to me
Rosie who lives in France
And Mick who lives in USA
To name just a few. It just feels nice to know there are others doing much the same.

7/ Where do you want to go from here in terms of your craft & shop?

You mean… I should have a plan?

Well, I love working with wool and I just want to do more and more. [that sounds a good plan to me!].

The summer has been so busy with the animals and veg patches, I am really looking forward to getting some time together to fill up my shop – with handspun wool, felted figures, bowls, flowers and so on.

I have written some patterns and we are putting together some kits with our handspun wool, and I have just started to work on some greetings cards with felted flowers that can be used as embellishments, and I have lots of ideas for new dye blends, and various felted figures!
Some lovely handspun, hand-dyed wool from the shop
Thanks for that Nicky! That was really interesting and I’ve got lots of new ideas. I’m particularly going to have a look at freeform crochet because I’m not good at following patterns either and that is just the kind of thing I would like. Also I think your tips about becoming more self sufficient are spot on (although I’m going to have to think about how I transform Partner from his current incarnation as Bernard from Black Books into more of a Tom Good figure ;-) ).

The Colour it Green shop can be found here – go, go look at wool and woolly products.

Have a lovely weekend everyone! I'm hoping to drink tea and knit through at least part of mine although I probably will have to leave the house at some point. Sigh...

Thursday, 16 September 2010

Save Our Sheep

Loretta, whose lovely beadwork you may remember, is at the moment engaging in saving endangered British sheep by buying their wool, so I am opening my emails and finding links to hirsute and bold-faced animals, which is much better than when I was doing my job and mostly used to open my emails to court summonses. Now, I have known Loretta for a while and she is pretty much indomitable, but, I do not think even Loretta can save the British Wool Industry single handed. So I am going to share some of the links with you because I believe there are people out there who have not, like me, spent their wool budget up to 2015, but who might, like me, be suckers for an endangered sheep. Also, isn’t it marvellous that you can help save endangered species by a pleasant but entirely discretionary purchase? That’s the best kind of activism. It’s exactly the same as if you could save Orangutans by taking one out for coffee occasionally. And if you are thinking, well, I don’t know what I’d say to an Orangutan for the duration of a cappuccino, well, I’ve been out for coffee with worse. I’m sure we all have.
You lookin' at me, hey hey hey?
OK, so first you can start with the Rare Breeds Survival Trust, which has made a list of endangered sheep for targeted-wool-buying purposes. Now, I have been looking around at rare-sheep-wool websites and I have got to say to you, the wool you are likely to get from rare breed sheep can be fairly hardcore, i.e. it is often sheep-coloured, and sometimes you can get fleeces ‘in the grease’, which sounds terrifying. But readers, we are knitters/ crafters and we are hardcore ourselves: this is the wool for us! (Also, I now have a book on spinning and I am working up to it. However I frankly have doubts about any craft which requires me to engage with something called a Niddy-Noddy).

Teeswater Wools sells wool in lots of different weights, and also dyed and un-dyed, and fleeces. They also sell ram semen, which is useful because I don’t know about you but I find it a devil to track down since they stopped selling it in Waitrose (that’s a joke. But, you see what I mean. Hardcore!).

Blacker Designs also have a fantastic selection (including some reduced ones. Go go go!), and tell you what kind of sheep your wool comes from,

The Wensleydale Longwool Sheep Shop has some rather seductive-looking sheep and you can order their wool by ringing them up. (*** I am editing this to add, please note you don't actually ring the sheep. They are very busy, hanging out, being woolly, contemplating the Void. You ring a person. ***).
Madam, if you will continue to point that camera then I shall be forced to turn to you my Bottom
And I found (by myself!), Garthenor Organic Pure Wool, which also tells you what sheep your wool comes from.

I will mention as well at this point that Rowan are also doing British Breed Wool at the moment, good for them. I haven’t tried it but I will go and stroke it in the shop and report back. I am rather seduced by the idea of buying from one of the above websites, however, where you can look your sheep straight in the eye, as it were. If wool money suddenly becomes available from somewhere I am going to order some and see what it is like (Loretta finds some of it a bit bristly but fine for things you won’t wear next to the skin, and says wool from Shetlands is very soft). Thanks Loretta for the links, I’m looking forward to ordering and my woolly horizons have been thrillingly expanded. Does anyone else have any links?
I envy not those beasties their woolly coats, for I have a Tuft upon my Head
I also have an interview on this blog tomorrow with someone who has sheep and sells their wool, though, and I am rather excited. So you may want to hold off on your British Wool Purchasing just for 24 hours because I think the best kind of wool generally is wool from a sheep named Sharona, and I think many people would agree.

Wednesday, 15 September 2010

Woolly Almost-WIP Wednesday

OK. I’ve accepted, emotionally, that we’re having a Woolly Week, so I just wanted to show you a couple of things I’ve (gasp) recently managed to finish, before I get back to sewing again next week (although, if anyone is wanting a fabric fix in the meantime, do have a look at Mumma Troll’s blog and her beautiful, beautiful quilt). So thanks to Tami from Tami’s Amis for hosting WIP Wednesday again, which I think is a great idea, thanks Tami! I’m sorry my WIPs aren’t strictly speaking WIPs, one is an almost-WIP and the others are no longer In Progress But Finished, but they’re in the spirit. Indulge me a tiny bit?

First, one ray of sun pierced the dense clouds surrounding North Cambridge today and the rain stopped for at least 50 seconds, so I whipped round and took some photos. Here is my Malabrigo Lace, aka a WIP-Wannabee:
Soft as the government regulations which apply to supermarkets, but nicer
Isn’t it pretty? I might make it into a featherweight cardigan or I might just keep it and stroke it like a pet. And I took a photo of my finished Citron, which is finished apart from blocking (sorry it’s on the dummy but it’s just too difficult to take a photo of your own back).
If I had known I would spend so much of my life photographing this door I might have painted it. Probably wouldn't, to be honest
I did 5 repeats in the end. I would have done six but I thought one more might cause me to lose it, and possibly run naked through the streets of Cambridge gesturing with a Denise interchangeable needle shouting no more bloody ruffles, no more. And frankly, that wasn’t a risk I was prepared to take. Would you have been? So, 5 ruffles makes a little shoulder-cover, and I actually quite like the length, I think it works.
I think this is rather cool even though I do say so myself
I did want one big shawl though, for this winter when our heating will be, as ever, inadequate in the face of the icy gales which blow straight from the Urals, so I decided to extend the crochet one I did a few weeks ago – this ended up using about 2 3/4 balls of King Cole Riot so came in at under £10. There we are, that’s me for you, price of everything, value of nothing.
I think I pulled something getting into this position
And because I am finishing things up at the moment, here are some boring vanilla top-down socks. I knit the most boring socks in the world and then wear them to death. Handknitted socks are one of the things where you can’t believe how much better they are until you’ve tried them although they are also one of the things that take so long to knit that they cannot be bought by money. Then I whipped up a bun and ate it. Coffee and walnut.
This is a Local Bun for Local People. There's nothing for you here
Also, just quickly, I wanted to update you about Lush. You remember I queried the localness of their products (and yes, I know I sound like Tubbs. I can’t help it. Some things cast a long shadow). Well, they emailed me back a very nice, well-thought out email, and had obviously checked their facts in some detail – it wasn’t just a standard response. They source 3 ingredients near to their factory in Dorset, and they also have a policy of trying to source ingredients from near their other factories in other countries, to reduce travel. They also ship ingredients rather than air-freight them. No ingredients/ processing are local to the shop in London which had the advert I was objecting to. So, do I think their customer services people are very helpful and knowledgeable? Yes I do. Do I think they are making an effort to source ingredients in a reasonably ethical/ eco-friendly way? From the information I have, yes, I think they probably are making more of an effort than many companies. Do I still think the advert was disingenuous and misleading? Readers, I’m afraid I do. And do I think that's a problem? Well, yes, I'm afraid so, because of the reasons I gave before.

So when you see your local Lush advertising that if you buy its products you will be buying fresh and local, remember that actually, you won’t be, not unless you live in Dorset, although that doesn’t mean that buying their products is necessarily a bad idea. It’s just like if I told you I looked exactly like a supermodel but possibly even more attractive, and then you met me, you might be unable to appreciate my many undoubtedly fine qualities because of the insistent voice in your head saying ‘she looks as much like a supermodel as I look like a sausage roll’. That is how I feel about Lush’s advertising campaign.

So there we are, I have managed a metaphor involving Lush products and a sausage roll and I think that is quite enough for one evening. I shall go and make dinner (potato scones! All traditional British food involves either potatoes or flour. It is compulsory. Or dripping. Are you jealous, non-UK readers? Are you?).

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

The Wool Shop Tour of the Eastern Region

OK, so I am starting to feel a little bit as if I live in the Wool Shop capital of the world. Whenever I go out of Cambridge, I find marvellous, marvellous wool shops.
A wool shop a wool shop a wool shop! Shall I go in, oh go on then might as well
I’m starting to think I should start Wool Shop Tours Of The Eastern Region. It would be great. We could hire a coach and I could be just like my hero, Brendan from Coach Trip. I would have a clipboard and I could shepherd (see what I did there?) my flock of knitters around the wilder reaches of the Fens, in a whirl of yarn and buns. I promise I wouldn’t make you go to Aldeburgh. We could play Red Devils on the bus, or Pub Cricket, or the game my mother invented where the first person to see a man with a beard out of the window wins (we used to make our own entertainment). Now doesn’t that sound better than Knit Camp? Touring the Fens on a steamy bus and shouting at men with beards? Of course it does. Shall I start organising it? Shall I ring up about visas?
The sign, it beckoned, but I needed no encouragement
So, yesterday I went to Ely Wool Shop. For those of you who know Ely, it’s right opposite the Cromwell museum. I went in search of some nice yarn to send to my swap partner in the Ravelry Blog Hub swap, which I got, hooray. And then, I was slightly mugged by some Malabrigo Lace which I saw sitting near the till. Malabrigo Lace! Exactly the colour of a summer sky! (I think I can remember what a summer sky looks like). I squeaked with involuntary delight. I patted it. It was like patting a gentle woolly cloud. Readers, I am afraid some Malabrigo Lace came home with me for a Featherweight Cardigan. Because you may remember the Citron, and how much I enjoy knitting long, long rows of laceweight. But I promise I will not moan (and actually the Citron is now finished and looking rather smart. If there is enough light to take photos in I will unveil it tomorrow).

Anyway, I loved Ely Wool Shop, and I thought it had a really nice, varied selection of wool – Malabrigo (it is so soft!), Manos del Uruguay, Artesano and lots, lots more, also a lovely selection of buttons, needles and what not. I liked it very much. My yarn budget is now essentially spent up to 2015 but who knows, I may win the lottery or I may have a moment of weakness and be back. I am quite likely to have a moment of weakness, if I am honest with myself. More likely than I am to win the lottery, as I wouldn’t know how to buy a ticket.
I want to touch it. Do you want to touch it? I do
There was one thing that threw me a little, though. I’m sure I spotted a couple of the giant balls of Aran. Does this throw my Wool Shop Theory out of the water? It’s possible that a New New Wave of Wool Shops is emerging which combines the best of all styles and worlds, giant Aran, Malabrigo, lovely wooden needles and light and airy surroundings. That sounds ok to me.
I am not going to look at you because I am part of the display. This is my job. Jeez
The one thing Ely Wool Shop didn’t have was a window display quite as innovative as this one I spotted a couple of doors down. I just put that forward as a suggestion, because I’m sure cat + wool wouldn’t be a completely disastrous and appalling combination at all. We all know cats are easy to train.

Monday, 13 September 2010

How to make Sugar Scrub (and a tiny bit more anti-capitalism).

We nipped off to London quickly this weekend for a weekend away before Partner starts autumn term (Partner works for the university, I'm not involved with a sixth former). I had fun eyeing up brightly patterned things in Pop Boutique in Seven Dials and wondering if I might wish to make such cushion covers.
I wish my house looked like this and actually I don't know why it doesn't
Cupcakes may also have become involved.
That is Partner's hand. Oh my God, he said, are you photographing your bun? Stop it! None of your blog readers care about your bun
And (and if anyone wants to give me a gold star here I think one is probably warranted,) I braved the tourists at Portobello Road market on the Saturday morning to get to the man under the railway bridge who sells vintage scarves. I had a nice time popping into Books For Cooks, and admiring the shops and stalls, and pondering what seems to be fashionable in vintage this year. I think I may (casually buffs nails on lapel) have been ahead of the game with my sparkly butterfly top, which I will dig out and show you when we have some light here which is not grey. It is quite a top, and fine if I don’t sit in front of any lights, although if I do they reflect off me like a disco ball which can be a bit embarrassing.
I feel the thing which improves an antique shop more than probably anything is when the outside is sparkly
But then unfortunately, oh no. I came upon something which annoyed me.
Lush. Not entirely my idea of local, I would suspect. Not entirely my idea of fresh, either, come to that
Local, I thought? I don’t think so. Lush is a national chain. So I looked on their website, which tells me about 3 UK suppliers, although there could obviously well be more, and also tells me that Lush operates in 46 countries, which I didn’t know. I suspect their idea of local is ‘some of our ingredients are produced in the UK’. Which is fine, and there’s nothing wrong with that, in fact, good on them: but that isn’t my idea of local, and I think that advert is disingenuous and misleading.

Now, is this important? Possibly it isn’t, and I’ve got to say, if I was going to go for the Heartless Face of International Capitalism I wouldn’t start with Lush. They might well be an excellent company, who deal with their suppliers really ethically, and I doubt it's possible for them to source all their ingredients from the UK, anyway. But it just hits a bit of a sour note with me. I have to confess, I probably wouldn't have found this so annoying if it hadn’t been right in the middle of an enormous street market full of people selling handmade and vintage things, and possibly some local produce, including a man with a stall full of handmade cold-process soap (and no marketing budget). Life is tough for independent businesses. It might be tough for the man with his cold-process soap, I didn’t ask him. And for a multi-national company to say that buying their stuff is buying local to take advantage of a shift in what customers want, well, I just don’t think that’s entirely playing fair. But I might be doing Lush an enormous disservice: so that’s why I’ve emailed them to ask how their products are local to the shop I saw, and if I’ve got the completely wrong end of the stick, which I do admittedly get sometimes, I’ll let you know and we’ll add Lush to some kind of mental Retail Heroes List (or even an actual one, because I'll be writing a links section one of these days!).
Finally! Someone else whose idea of minimalism is the same as mine!
And, as a thankyou for staying with me through my anti-capitalist ramblings (and I promise you we’ll have a break for the rest of the week, because I feel my focus shifting to sheep and to Ely Wool Shop where I had a marvellous but financially ruinous time today, I feel it shifting irrevocably), and just because genuinely handmade cosmetics (and on this subject Vivianne from Kismet's Companion has just put some of her soap up for sale! Congrats Vivianne) are actually rather nice, here is my recipe for Brown Sugar Scrub. If you’re in the UK, you can buy ingredients for stuff like this from your nearest health-food shop, or from Helen at Fresholi, who is terrifyingly efficient but in a good way. If you don’t have cup measures, just use anything (or use a small mug) but keep the proportions.

You need:
1 cup brown sugar (I tend to use demerara).
1/2 cup Sweet Almond Oil or olive oil or a mixture.
1/2 teaspoon Vitamin E oil (you can leave this out if you haven’t got it).
1 tablespoon Aloe Oil.
About 15 drops essential oils (whatever you like – I always think lavender/ geranium and patchouli/ ylang ylang go well together. Coffee and vanilla would be delicious).

Basically – just mix everything together in a bowl. That’s it. You can keep it in any kind of container with a top (e.g. a tupperware). You might have to mix it together a bit each time you use it, as the oil tends to separate, but it will last a good long while. Do give it a try, it’s dead easy and nice. And who doesn’t want a gently exfoliated epidermis? I certainly do, but I wanted Malabrigo Lace more. And now I’ve got it! But more about that tomorrow…

Thursday, 9 September 2010

Incidentally the revolution will be achieved via scones

When I did my first post about Shopping Local, Anna (sorry Anna don’t know your website to link) left me a comment about some books I could read – she mentioned Not On The Label and Tescopoly. Well, our motto here at Useless Beauty Designs is, never do anything without reading a book on it first, so these recommendations were very welcome. So, I have been reading Not On The Label, and also Bad Food Britain and Shopped: the shocking power of Britain’s supermarkets (excuse the Amazon links, they are just to show you. Support your independent bookseller! - I got mine from Oxfam & the library). Well, Shopped, in particular, is quite a page turner. It has everything: suspense, villains, plucky little heroes, it’s great. Now whenever I pick up a book with a title in a big font, Partner looks at me nervously and says, is this one of those books that make you suck your teeth and say, ooooo? Are you going to tell me how I can’t buy wine from Tesco anymore? So, I suspect I may have become something of a bore in my personal life and, I’m sorry readers, but this is one of the benefits of having a blog, now I can bore you all as well. Hooray! Joke! (Kind of!). Basically (although do read Shopped in particular, I thought it was great), this is what I’ve learned:
The Asda Trolleys of Alienation. I knew this photo would come in handy one day and I'm glad it did because I looked daft taking it
- Supermarkets treat their suppliers badly, and pay them such a low price that they cut corners on quality and the way they treat their workers.

- Supermarkets ride roughshod over planning laws, and have various tactics to force councils into granting them permission to build or expand stores, sometimes despite enormous local opposition.

- Supermarkets dictate to suppliers what they should supply, with the result that our farming industry has been changed for the worse and in a way that isn’t now recoverable.

- Supermarkets try to nudge us into buying more value-added (processed) foods and less ingredients, because the profit margin is higher.

- The number of new jobs supermarkets provide doesn’t compensate in number overall for the number of jobs lost in other shops, and the effect of supermarkets on nearby towns is generally pretty rotten.
    When did you last see a mad wooden chicken in a supermarket book section? Shop independent and save the mad wooden chickens!
    Now, I’m sure there’s some bias in the way this is reported in the books I’ve read, and I don’t think all local supermarkets necessarily have a bad effect on the places they’re near – I’m sure some can have a helpful, regenerating effect, and bring some useful competition. Likewise, I’m sure not all suppliers are unhappy with the way they’re treated. However (serious face, finger on lip), I think I’ve read enough to convince me that overall, the way supermarkets operate isn’t beneficial for our health, quality of food, diversity of choice, etc, and I’m no longer comfortable with giving them as much of my money as I was previously. So, this is my Manifesto. These are the things I will do:

    - Replace as much of my supermarket shop as is practicable with things from the market and independent shops. This has been quite a lot of fun so far, and no more trouble than doing a once-a-week shop at the supermarket. It’s just different. (Basically, you have to chat more).

    - Cook as much from scratch as possible. Every time you get your mixing bowl out, Tesco’s share price looks a little bit shakier. Every time you think to yourself ‘I don’t actually believe that the Finest Range is the highest possible peak of gastronomic perfection’, a shiver goes down the spine of Tesco’s chairman. It’s a marvellous revolutionary kind of political act, and it’s even better because you get food at the end of it. Che Guevara might be on a lot of tshirts but he never did anything that produced a cupcake.
      Our northern correspondent, i.e. my mother, has sent me a photo of her fruit and veg that she bought from the market and scones, buns, and bread she baked. So I want you to know that although I have convinced one other person, I don't actually demand photographic proof
      - Educate myself about food. I am not a bad cook by any means but I’m surprised how little I know about cooking seasonal things, basic recipes etc, and ingredients. Indeed I don’t think the fishmonger respected me yesterday when I couldn’t recognise a Sea Bass (or was it a Sea Bream? Who can tell?).

      - Not buy non-food-items or services from supermarkets, because I think they’ve taken over enough of the food part of the retail sector without taking over the rest of it as well. We have our car insurance with Tesco at the moment and I’m going to move it (and yes, I am looking forward to trying to find a really ethical insurer, thanks very much ;-) ). I don’t buy clothes at the moment and the last time I bought something electrical from Tesco it was rubbish (don’t get me started), so I’m not keen to repeat that. So we’re alright until they start selling Malabrigo for 50p a skein in which case I might have a bit of an inner battle.

      - Grow My Own. Well, it’s fair to say I’ve failed this year, but by God it can’t be beyond the wit of woman, can it? So next year is going to see me with a trowel in my hand poking at a sprout top and being marvellously connected to the earth and the food chain.
        How hard can it all be?

        (Aaaaaaand… if you want to know more, there are some good resources at Tescopoly, and some leaflets about the problems with supermarkets at Corporate Watch. I’m just off now to read the one about the problems with supermarket shop local initiatives. Eternal vigilance, people. Eternal vigilance!).

        Wednesday, 8 September 2010

        Musings on colour choices

        As you know, I love bright fabrics patchworked together.
        Never miss a chance to put purple and orange together
        But I’m also trying to experiment with more muted colours. This is a cushion cover made of recycled ties.

        It’s mostly grey and navy silk fabric with a tiny print, with that stripe of red in there to liven it up a bit. Does anyone remember there was a year in the nineties when some designer or other decided we would focus on Texture not Colour, and the shops were full of grey? Because we were all supposed to be wearing grey cashmere and possibly a bit of grey jersey if we were racy? If you’ve seen Ab Fab, you might remember the minimalist couple who design Edina’s kitchen: we were all supposed to look like that. Only in grey. No, the nineties were not a good decade for fashion as there is a limit to what anyone can do with a redefined classic white tshirt and a black nylon bumbag. Anyway, it didn’t work and I think Marks and Spencers made a loss of some shocking amount because nobody bought anything, and so they became quite cross, and that was the end of grey, and the death knell for Urban Minimalism, it was rung. It was rung comprehensively.

        Well I lived through that and I still love grey. It’s hard to put me off things, you know. It needs dedication. Sometimes it practically needs a sledgehammer.