Wednesday 30 December 2015

Beginning Spinning

My first lot of hand-spun yarn

Like many creative people I'm always interested in learning new things and trying things out. Although I already have a lit of projects (not to mention the materials) to keep me going for several lifetimes I can't help but get sidetracked by other things. In this instance, spinning is my latest distraction.

My first skein, made with help!

Pyjamas and a spinning wheel and a cat = happiness!

First attempts

A couple of months ago a very kind person donated a spinning wheel to my textiles group at The Heathlands Project. The wheel was in good condition but needed a bit of work so I took to Ravelry to see if I could find someone to help restore the wheel to full working order and get us spinning. My spinning knowledge was limited, to say the least. I've done some drop spinning but that's about it so I was clearly going to need a bit of help!

Through Ravelry I received a number of kind offers and helpful suggestions, including from a lady based near Shap who offered to come and fix the wheel and give us a demonstration. I've always been fairly sure that most people are pretty nice but I was really touched by how kind complete strangers can be and how willingly people will give their time and expertise to help with something they believe in and are passionate about.

Spiral plying my hand-spun humbug with mulberry silk

Plyed and ready to skein

Making a skein using chair legs!

In next to no time our kind person had the wheel sorted (with a bit of improvisation and cutting up of plastic lids for maiden bearings, there are some great technical terms in spinning.) She also gave myself and a couple of colleagues a quick spinning lesson. I was pretty rubbish but my colleague really took to it and within a week had bought herself a wheel. I was impressed by the beautiful yarns she produced and became more and more interested in learning. I decided that I would borrow the Heathlands wheel over Christmas and get some practise in.

Set up for spinning

Harry like to help

Or just watch

Which is what I did, before I took the wheel home I asked my colleague to give me a lesson and get me going which she did. It was frustrating at first because I could see what I was meant to be doing but I couldn't quite get there! However, patience and practise are enough to conquer most hurdles and with encouragement by the end of the day I was able to spin, sort of.

Getting better and better

Learning to spin is a bit like learning to drive, there seems to be so many different things to do with your hands and feet all at once and it feels like you'll never master it. Then at some point you find you can do it. Feet and hands are doing as they should and yarn is being created, it is a kind of magic. Of course, as with all things the more you do it the easier it gets and the better the yarn you create gets. From lumpy, uneven tangles to smooth, regular yarns but all of them beautiful because they are unique and have the mark of their maker.

First attempts

First attempts

I am quite surprised by how much I like spinning. I've always been interested in learning how to do it but it seemed so laborious and time consuming. However, I've been surprised by how quick it is once you get going and it is so relaxing. The gentle rhythm of the wheel and the feel of the fibre as it passes through your hands, I could easily spend hours doing this (and over the holidays I have!)

My first truly solo spinning project, humbug fibres plied with mulberry silk

Improvement: First skein on the left, last on the right

On top of this is the alchemy of creating something from almost nothing. There is something incredibly satisfying in making things yourself and as a keen knitter and crocheter I've always wondered about making my own yarns to work with. Having now got the basic technique I'm keen to experiment more and try things out, my mind is buzzing with new projects and ideas.

Close ups

Close ups

Close ups

My kind colleague, who gave me my pre Christmas spinning lessons, bought me some humbug fibres for my birthday so this is what I've been spinning with. My yarn is fine from perfect, it is still uneven and I've a lot to learn but I'm excited about getting better, trying new things and making things with my unique, custom made yarns. So, enough writing, I'm going back to the wheel...

Wednesday 23 December 2015

Reflections and Resolutions (sort of)

Blackbird Singing. Lino cut. 2015

As Christmas and the New Year rapidly approaches I find myself, like most people I imagine, reflecting on the year and making plans and resolutions for the next one. Overall I've had a really good year, I think the fact that it seems to have gone so quickly reflects how busy it's been! I'm starting to feel really comfortable with myself and feel like I'm doing a pretty good job of getting the balance right, not always of course but overall this year has been a lot less stressful than previous years and so I've enjoyed it more! I've worked on lots of interesting projects, met some lovely people, been to some lovely places, made some good art and craft work and generally just had a nice time.

Bird workshop with Key Stage 1
Needle felting at Tullie Textiles
Lino printing with my Prism Arts group

For next year I would like to carry on having a nice time and largely doing what I want but the main area I would like to develop (as in most years!) is having more time for my own work. I am fortunate that I spend the majority of my time working on creative projects and I love what I do and it pays the bills. Sometimes though I find my own practice slips which can be quite frustrating. As always balance is the key so I will keep trying and sometimes I'll get it right!

Embroidered Goose

Embroidered Goose: Detail

Embroidered Goose: Detail

Over the last couple of months I've been blogging less regularly, largely because although I have been busy with work it's mostly been bits and pieces and planning for things. I wanted to get a post in before Christmas so I thought I would just do a little round up and reflection of some of the things I've been up to as this seemed to fit in with the idea of reflections and resolutions.

Embroidered Bird

Embroidered Bird: Detail

Embroidered Bird: Detail

I have lots of exciting workshops lined up for next year so one of the things I've been working on is making samples and example pieces for these workshops. In February I am running a workshop at Tullie House based around embellishing printed fabrics, this has given me an excellent reason to work on some more of my stitched birds. This in turn has led onto some ideas for how to develop my own artwork, I have been drawing birds directly onto plain fabric and painting them and the next step is to start embroidering them. I'm excited about this and looking forward to seeing how it all works out...

Drawing on Fabric

Painted and ready to stitch

I have also been experimenting with my drawing a bit more. I almost always work in pen on paper with continuous line so I am trying to be a bit more experimental. This week I have been playing with ink, early days but I think this could lead to some interesting drawings.

Inky feathers

Inky feathers

Inky feathers

For my birthday this year we travelled up to Dumfries and as well as generally enjoying ourselves and having a nice break we visited the Gracefield Arts Centre. I was really impressed, I thought the spaces were beautiful and the exhibitions really interesting. I particularly enjoyed the Frost and Fire exhibition by Circle Arts and felt really inspired and enthused about getting into my studio and making my own work.

Birthday treat: Weekend away

Sunny winter walks

So, a good year has been had and I'm hopeful for another good year to come with lots of making, exploring and visiting. I hope you all have a peaceful Christmas and a very Happy New Year!

Monday 7 December 2015

Making Things

As I write this much of my beloved Carlisle is under water. It's a strange experience and an odd mix of emotions; gratitude and relief that we are not flooded, sympathy for all those who are, sadness for all the damage and disruption. I'm finding it hard to concentrate, I keep checking the news and looking at the pictures and generally feeling a bit useless. 

I can't go into work today (usually I would be running Prism Arts Studio group) because of the floods so I've found myself with some unexpected time on my hands. Usually this would be a good thing but it's not helping with the moping so I thought it best to give myself a specific task, such as writing a blog post! If you are able to and would like to donate money to help those affected by the floods you can donate to Cumbria Community Foundation through Just Giving.

My stall at Wreay

At one time I did a lot of craft fairs but recently there have been so many other things to do that this side of things has fallen by the wayside. However, in the last weekend of November I had a stall at Wreay village hall for their Christmas Craft Fair. Despite fairly terrible weather (although nothing like as bad as this weekend) we had a good turnout and it was a friendly and well organised event, well supported by the community.

Melted plastic earrings


My stall

Doing this craft fair helped clarify a few things for me. Firstly, I really enjoy making things. one of the reasons I haven't done many fairs is that I haven't had time to make new things to sell. When I heard about this particular fair it sounded like it would be a good thing to do and I had quite a while to get stuff ready. In the run up to the fair I really enjoyed making some new things, playing with fabrics and coming up with new ideas.

Lino prints

Blackbird lino print on a notebook

Lino print made into a card

Which leads nicely onto thing two, I don't want to do lots of craft fairs! Although I enjoyed the weekend and it was a good opportunity to hear what people thought of my stuff I don't want to spend my time selling, there are too many other things I want to do more.

Owls ready to be sewn up

Owl key-rings

Owl hot-water bottle cover

However, I did really enjoy making things for the fair so I think what I would like to do in the New Year is re-open my Folksy shop and try and sell some bits and pieces on-line. There were lots of very talented artists and crafts people at the fair and this really inspired me to get making. So, it's off to the studio I go!