Weaving hemp and cotton tea towels

I admit it; I’m addicted to weaving tea towels. I also want to weave some wool fabric for making a coat, some silk scarves for gifts and some scrap yarn fabric for making bags, but when I find the time to warp something up, immediately my mind reaches for a tea towel draft and some absorbent yarn.

I did get a scarf or two of scrap yarn woven between tea towel weaves.

This project is a special one; it’s my first try at weaving with hemp (as the yarn…for those who were wondering). I bought a one kilo roll of fine (8/2 weight) hemp yarn, I just can’t seem to resist a good deal on yarns, and decided that it would be perfect for tea towels. Hemp is a bast fibre (meaning it comes from the stalks of a plant and is cellulose based) and is known to be very strong, resilient and absorbent when used in weaving. The yarn itself is very rough and stiff, it feels kind of like string to me, but my reading (and YouTubing) tells me it will become soft over time and use. Flax is very similar to this and linen, the finest, most hard wearing cloth is made from flax.

I decided to try out the Viking weave pattern again, because I really do love it. So first I wound a warp; this is a long, fairly tedious activity that involves winding yarn around a series of pegs to make lengths long enough to weave the items you had in mind. I am not good at maths, but I followed the instructions on the weaving draft to wind the warp 5.2 metres long (which should get me eight tea towels). Once I had the length decided, I wound the first length around the pegs until I had a 5.2m length, then I repeated that 408 times to get the width of cloth I needed (each length is called an end).

Just to make things interesting, I also had to count each end and divide them into bundles that fit into inch increments on the loom; using a length of yarn that crosses over every 24 ends (the pattern says there are 24 ends per inch), that way when it is time to wind the warp onto the loom the bundles could be distributed evenly along the back beam (using a raddle).

Each little red loop has 24 strands in it. That means that when I get to putting it on the loom I can divide each bundle into an inch slot.

When the warp was all wound and tied securely in a lot of places, I spread it out using my home made raddle. A raddle is basically a tool for holding yarn temporarily in the right place while it is put on the loom, I built mine from a photo on a weaving site (it is a very simple tool).

The raddle is the row of silver hooks on the bit of 2X1 pine. Each gap between the hooks on the raddle is an inch long.
The warp spread out on the raddle.
A nice neat warp so far.

Next I need to thread the warp. This involves threading each end through it’s assigned heddle (the wire bits hanging on the frames in the photo below) each heddle has a hole in the middle to allow the thread to pass through. The weaving draft tells me which frame each thread needs to be attached to.

Finished threading through the heddles, now for the reed.
All threaded through the reed and tied onto the apron bar. I used cardboard strips to spread the warp evenly then wove an inch or so with a pale yarn as a border.
I discovered a few loose threads that needed to be weighed down with hooks and sinkers at the back of the loom. These threads hang down in the shed and make mistakes in the weaving.
Then it is time to weave. I love watching the pattern emerge.
The first tea towel almost done.

My plan is to use the same pattern for each tea towel but to use different colours for the weft; all in 8/2 cotton of course.

I know this is a fairly complicated post, full of the jargon of weaving, but it is my attempt to document the process of making things I use in my everyday life, and I love the language associated with weaving, it is so ancient and full of seemingly nonsensical terms. It is really a very simple process that comes naturally to the hands but it is hard to explain in words.

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Make a tote bag from hand woven fabric

I am busily using up scrap yarn from my overflowing stash. As part of that I wove a piece of fabric that is frankly…um…mixed up; I used all sorts of fancy yarns in the weft, eyelash yarn, boucle yarn and a little bit of ladder yarn. All that in no particular order, colour or pattern, just throwing in a little bit here and there.

What to do with this fabric? I decided to make a tote bag.

First I cut it off the loom and overlocked the edges.

I gave it a wash too, to test for shrinkage.

Next I cut a lining the same size and some handle material.

Then it was time to sew up both the bag and the lining into basic bag shapes. Leaving a small hole in the bottom of the lining to turn the whole thing inside out.

Sewing across the bottom corners gives the bag a nice square bottom. I didn’t forget to measure the same distance down the corner seam on each piece. I sewed the lining corners the same way.

The corners were folded so that the bottom seam and the side seam lay on top of each other; the seam you can see in the photo below is the side seam, it is laying on top of the bottom seam. This makes a sort of cross seam at the base of the bag.

Finally I sewed the top of the outer bag to the inner lining. The handles can be pinned between these layers. I went over the handle joins more than once when sewing this part; handle joins are subject to a lot of strain. The handles need to be looped downwards with the ends facing up towards the top of the bag, when sewing the top seam (I learned that the hard way).

Yes…the handle is the wrong way around. I had to unpick and re-sew the whole thing with the handles the right way around.

I turned it all inside out (or right side out) then sewed up the hole.

There’s the bag done. Not too bad for a scrap yarn project.

Now on to spinning more yarn to make more fabric to sew more things.

Making a canopied mosquito net for a bed.

After sleeping on the same bed for 34 years (different mattresses of course) we finally bought ourselves another one. For a long time now, my partner and I have been sleeping on a Queen size water bed converted to hold a mattress. I went into labour with both my daughters in this bed (while it was still a water bed; don’t get me started on getting out of a water bed to a phone in full labour…it’s a story with many rude words and gestures). The old girl has been through a lot and is still functional, but we wanted something we could hang mosquito nets from. We have tried hanging those tent-like nets over the bed (many times), but the bother of climbing in from the bottom of the bed (because they only have one entrance) and getting tangled in netting through the night has always been painful. So mostly we just put up with bugs and geckos (sometimes frogs) on the bed in the middle of the night.

I did some thinking and researching of ways to hang a mosquito net over the bed in a more comfortable way. I came up with a few ideas, but they all had drawbacks and some were expensive. Until one day my partner said “Why don’t we just buy a four poster bed?”.

Traditionally the four poster bed was used to keep people warm at night, it is sort of like sleeping in a tent inside your bedroom as the curtains help keep body heat in and a smaller space to heat makes it warmer for the sleeper. They also gave some protection from rats and cockroaches as the curtains could be tightly closed. So a four poster bed with a Winter curtain and a Summer curtain is what we settled on.

We considered buying a new four poster bed…too expensive and feels like a cop out.

We considered building a four poster bed…too expensive and time consuming and my partner wasn’t keen.

We considered buying one second hand…the best option by far, but they don’t come up for sale often.

Recently I saw a four poster bed listed on Facebook in a local town. I messaged the current owner and negotiated a price and a pick up date. Because the car is broken down (again…) we have to wait for 2 weeks to pick up the new bed, then it will need some work as it has a little damage to the joins in two places. While I wait for all this, I’m going to sew us a canopy.

This is the photo from the ad. She’s a Queen size and doesn’t come with a mattress.

First I need the measurements of the canopy part…a message to the owner is all it took to secure those.

Then I need to sketch up a rough design; we wanted a four poster that is functional not decorative. We want to be able to block out bugs in Summer and cold in Winter. That means I will need two canopies; one for blocking cold and one for blocking bugs but not breeze. Armed with these design criteria, I set off on a design adventure.

By the time I got around to actually doing anything on this project we had picked up the bed and my partner put it together while I sewed the curtains; perfect timing.

I said they were preliminary.
My partner putting the bed together.
The new toy he had to buy to do it.
Together, made and waiting for curtains.

The old mosquito nets I had saved to make the curtains all had too many holes in them to be useful. I fell back on one of my favourite fabrics; muslin. Muslin always makes me feel so delicate and diaphanous, it floats, it’s see through, it lets air blow through it, perfect for a summer curtain for the bed.

A spare Queen sized sheet in a light, cotton material will be the top or roof of the curtain..

Now I just need to pin the curtains to the top, making sure to overlap them at the openings so there won’t be a gap. Sewing it all together (which took AGES) and trying it on the bed to make sure it fits.

Sewing the curtains together.
One of the many fitting sessions during construction. I decided to sew up the corner seams so there is no gaps in coverage.
I even added some fairy lights in the hope of attracting fairies.

The curtain works really well. We could hear beetles and insects zooming around outside the curtain during the night, but none got in. This was a really satisfying project to make and fairly easy once I got past the feeling that I was sitting in a sea of fabric while I sewed every seam.

The Winter curtain will be made in the same way, except with heavier materials. I am thinking of weaving a piece of woolen blanketing to make the top and some flannelette sheets as the curtains. I have wanted to make blankets for some time, maybe this is the time to do it.

making little fulled knitting bags

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I have been spinning a lot lately (whenever there is time), mostly from a coloured merino fleece I picked up  somewhere. The yarn is lovely and fine, but what to do with it all? So I decided to make some little knitting bags; the kind you can hang over your wrist and knit from, or stick your needles into and shove in your handbag when you realise the bus is pulling over at your stop (or is that just me?). I will spin the yarn, knit and full the bags then pop a ball of my yarn and some knitting needles into it and sell my ‘knitting starter kits’ at the markets (offering a free knitting lesson at point of purchase). I don’t know if anyone will take me up on it given the heat at the moment, but we will see.

My little bags don’t really have a pattern, it’s more of a knit-by-feel affair, but I will try to explain the process (with photos of course). First I find some spare homespun wool that I have been wanting to use for something and turn it into a neat little ball by putting it on my yarn swift and winding it off with the ball maker thing.

 

 

I then cast on some stitches, enough to make a decent square. For this bag I used 20 stitches and knitted a square base using garter stitch (knit every row). The square has to be big enough to fit a ball of wool on plus about 40% (to allow for shrinkage when fulling).

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A knitted square. I just love this yarn; caramel alpaca plied with gold thread

I pick up stitches around the sides of the square, trying to pick up the same number as my cast on side. The number of stitches on each side is not really crucial to success, but it does make things neater and easier to finish.

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I knit in rounds to make the sides until the bag is deep enough to hold a ball of wool, bearing in mind that fulling (or felting) makes the piece shrink, so adding about 40% to all measurements.

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My bag is coming together

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Now comes the tricky bit; handles. I have just discovered the Japanese knot bag design, and it suits the knitting bag design I have in mind. All I need to do is knit handles with one being shorter than the other…right?

This photo from the internet shows the design I mean

My little bag is a mini version of the one in the photo (knitted rather than cloth too), so the longer handle only needs to be long enough to loop around the wrist. I knit the handles by casting off until I reach a corner, knit some handle stitches (in this one I made them six stitches wide) then slip those stitches onto a stitch holder. Now I continue casting off until I reach the next corner. I do this all the way around until there are four sets of handle stitches (on stitch holders). Then I knit back and forward on one set of stitches using garter stitch until it is long enough to loop over to the handle stitch set beside it (that is the next set along tracing around the perimeter). I graft the handle onto the handle stitches using the three needle cast off. The other two handle stitch sets are done the same way but this handle is long enough to go over a wrist (plus 40%).

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Now the knitted part of the bag is finished, it is time to full or felt it.

 

 

Fulling is easy; just throw the bag in the washing machine with some detergent (I use shampoo actually) and let it wash for a few minutes. Fibre felts at different rates, so the fulling process may be really fast (if I used Icelandic wool yarn), or it may be very slow (if I used Suffolk wool yarn), but it will felt (as long as the fibre is wool and is not super wash treated). Alpaca is a medium speed felter, so it took about 15 minutes.

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The bags I have made so far in the washing machine ready to felt

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The finished bbag with a ball of wool and needles inside, ready to go. As you can see the bag shrunk quite a bit.

So now it’s back to spinning more wool from that merino fleece.

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Making pesto

I don’t usually post about cooking or food preparation. The reason is really simple; I’m a TERRIBLE cook. I don’t enjoy cooking and I avoid it as much as possible, but I have had a few successes in the kitchen lately and I like to document my wins so here is my latest triumph.

While I was messing around in the garden I picked a bunch of basil that is starting to flower. When you pick basil, you have to make pesto…it’s in the rule book. I didn’t have pine nuts or olive oil (or fresh garlic) but I made pesto anyway.

My modified pesto recipe

2 cups basil leaves (about)

1/2 cup rice bran oil

1/2 cup roasted macadamia nuts

2 teaspoons powdered garlic

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My bunch of fresh basil

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The ingredients I managed to find to make impromptu pesto

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Basil, oil and garlic in the bullet blender

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After the first blending of the basil and oil mix I added the macadamias

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I love the texture of this pesto

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It turned out really yummy

Things to do with sourdough starter

I don’t eat a lot of bread, because the rest of my family prefer that foam rubber white stuff. I really don’t like the flavour or texture of white bread so I just do without most of the time. I do like the flavour and texture of sour dough bread and it is really easy to make too. When I am in the mood for bread I make myself a sour dough starter and make bread every few days. I am usually the only one who eats it (besides the chooks that is) but it is still worth the effort. My starters tend to go great for a few months then die from neglect in the back of the fridge when my bread craving passes. I thought I would do a post documenting the process of making a bread starter and making bread using it so the life and inevitable death of yet another starter isn’t in vain.

Making a starter

It’s as easy as mixing up a half cup of bread flour with a half cup of warmish water and leaving it on a kitchen bench (away from insects and critters) covered with a damp tea towel. If you need precise measurements you can find them here, but they really don’t have to be precise. I can see that the discovery of bread came from a happy accident made by a less than fastidious cook at some point in human history; maybe someone left flat bread dough out and forgot about it, decided to use it anyway and discovered that it tastes better that way. So much of our staple foods seem to be created by being left to their own devices.

I have read a few posts about starting the yeast with pineapple juice to kick start the yeast production (something about acidic conditions and extra sugar); I don’t have pineapple, but I do have apple so here we go on another experiment (I just can’t follow a recipe to the letter can I?). Apple juice isn’t particularly acidic but it is sugary, so to counter that I decided to add a tablespoon of apple cider vinegar (that was sitting in the pantry).

So the starter recipe is;

1/2 cup organic plain flour

1/2 cup apple juice

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Dump it all into a seal-able jar and mix it up well. Leave it on the kitchen bench covered with something.

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Ingredients collected

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The starter all mixed up and ready to go

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Day one

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It can sit up on a shelf away from animals (maybe not flying ones though) next to my sprout jar

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Day three

On day three I start to see bubbles in the mix so I fed it with a quarter of a cup of flour and a dash of water (just enough to keep it liquid). Then back on the shelf it goes. Maybe on day four I can divide the starter and use it to make something (it’s not bubbly enough to make bread yet but maybe some pancakes?).

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Day five…yes, I forgot to take a photo when I fed the starter on day four

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This is a photo of the side of the jar (badly lit), you can see the bubbles go right through the starter

On day five I decide it is time to make the baby starter work for a living (and I hate throwing away half the mix every time I feed it), I decided to make sour dough doughnuts. I have made these from spare starter for a few years now, I  don’t make them often, but often enough to be considered a staple recipe. I use the recipe I found here.

The recipe is in two parts; the first afternoon you mix the basic dough and leave it overnight. The recipe says leave it on the counter, but since one of the ingredients is milk the fridge is a better place for the covered bowl in our hot Australian climate.

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This is the dough mix after sitting in the fridge overnight. You can see that the yeast has done a great job starting the rising process

I totally forgot to take photos of the doughnut making; all I did was spoon the mix into oiled doughnut pans and bake them at about 200 degrees Celsius (the recipe is in Fahrenheit). Then I rolled the little darlings in cinnamon sugar and left them to cool. They didn’t rise as much as I had hoped, but they taste really good.

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Next time I make them I think I will leave them to rise a little in the doughnut pans before cooking. The starter can be moved to the fridge and only taken out to feed it or make something. Bread is the next thing on the menu…..next post.

 

Seedling starting with a self watering system

At one point I was growing all my vegetables from seed in a little greenhouse thing I bought. Time constraints got the better of me though and I started buying seedlings. It is time to be inspired to grow my own seedlings again.

Recently I found the most amazing You Tube channel; it’s called ‘Under the Choko Tree’ the name drove me nuts at first because as we all know…choko is a climbing vine not a tree. Aside from the name, the channel offers some great tutorials for making seed raising mix, planting seedlings, making paper pots and making a self watering system for seedlings. The star of the show is Nevin Sweeney, I have been reading his articles in Grass Roots magazine for years and have read his blog for a while too (http://www.underthechokotree.com/).

Nevin’s video tutorial makes it all sound so simple, how could I not give it a go?

Check out his how to make seed raising mix tutorial Here

I used a hummus container (empty obviously) as my measure as the tutorial uses ‘parts’ as its measurement, one hummus container full equals one part. I collected sand from a causeway crossing beside the road, the compost was sieved from the chook pen floor and the coir bulking agent I bought from my local Rural Agent store.

Now I had all the ingredients it was time to get mixing;

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The recipe is as simple as 1 part sand, 2 parts compost and 3 parts coir. That’s it, just mix the lot together into a gorgeous looking seed raising mixture and start potting your seeds.

The Choko Tree has a tutorial with advice about planting seeds in punnets too; view it here.

I decided to give Nevin’s advice about planting only a few of each type of plant in each punnet a go. As you can see in the photo, my test punnet has chilli, rockmelon and capsicum in it (two of each). I like this idea as it allows me to plant only a few of the seedlings I don’t need many of (like chilli) and a lot of the ones I need more of (like tomato). It will also let me succession plant seedlings for a more sustained harvest (things like cabbage and lettuce) if I can plant new seeds every two weeks or so I can keep the harvest going for the whole season, I don’t know why I didn’t think of this myself.

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Next I built myself a self watering system for the punnets; the tutorial for that one is here.

The basic concept is that water will seep upwards into the punnets from wet sand beneath (as anyone who has ever sat down on a damp beach wearing jeans can attest…capillary action works). I filled my tubs, made from old oil drums sawn in half length-ways, with sand and plunked in a little pot at the end to be used as a holder for the water reservoir (an old juice bottle in my case). My newly planted punnets were just plunked onto the surface of the sand and water was added to the tub and reservoir.

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The water reservoir is filled with water from the duck pond, I figured I would add some nutrient to the mix (and the duck pond is closer than the tap).

Now to wait until they come up.

While I am waiting I made some colourful stone markers for the seeds I planted directly into the garden. I love these markers and have made them at every school I go to over the last few weeks. For mine at home I went for slightly larger rocks so they won’t get lost in the bushy garden. They don’t need a tutorial; I just used acrylic paint and wrote the names on with a permanent marker once the paint had dried. I did coat them all with clear paint when they were dry though, hoping it will extend the life of the colours.

 

What do you think?

Making laundry gel at home

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I have been making our laundry gel for a while now. It works amazingly well for a wide variety of dirt and grime. You can probably imagine the messes we get into living with so many animals, dust and dirt, not to mention that my partner works in the agricultural industry (lots of dirt there too) and I am a teacher (paint, marker, ink, runny noses, glitter, need I say more?). This little recipe makes up about two large coffee jars of washing gel which can be scooped out with a spoon and hurled into the washing machine with minimal care and attention.

I found the recipe here a couple of years ago. Of course I didn’t have any borax (which the recipe calls for) so I made it without any. My recipe works really well without borax, but if you want to add it to the mix maybe you will get even better results.

Basic laundry gel recipe;

Ingredients

1 bar pure soap or home made soap (approx 100g)

1 cup washing soda

3 litres water

4 teaspoons essential oils of your choice

Method

Grate soap into a big pot, pour in 4 cups of the water and heat, stirring occasionally, until soap has dissolved. Add washing soda, extra water and stir until combined then add essential oils. Pour into wide mouthed container and allow to cool.

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The ingredients, all ready to go

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The grated soap and water unheated.

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After the soap dissolves.

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Poured into open mouthed jars.

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This gel doesn’t froth up much but it does get clothes clean.

I use three of the scoops you can see in the picture in my washing water and wash multiple loads in the same water. This batch lasts me about four months, so it is a very economical and eco friendly thing to do. It takes about half an hour to make a batch and you can do other things at the same time (I fed the animals while the soap dissolved).

Making a yarn bowl

What is a yarn bowl? I hear you ask. Well..it’s a decorative piece of knitting or crochet equipment whose sole purpose is to stop the yarn ball from running away under the lounge while you work and getting covered in dust bunnies (and who knows what else in my house).

 Yarn bowls can be made of anything really; wood, clay, plastic, felt, or any number of other materials. The important thing is that they hold the ball securely inside and have a yarn guide that keeps the yarn from getting really tangled as you pull it through.

I pulled these photos of yarn bowls straight from an internet search. Some of them are so pretty.

 While not strictly required for knitting or crochet, they do add a touch of class to the whole thing. I love the look of them and can imagine a row of yarn bowls on a shelf, each with it’s own little ball or cake of yarn sitting patiently in it while I decide what I will knit today, or sitting on a table beside my chair as I effortlessly and smoothly knit Fair Isle patterns without tangles, snarls or swearing.

The ones with lids have the advantage of being more dust proof I suppose, but there is something about seeing your yarn while you work that is so soothing and satisfying.

Home made yarn bowls here we come…

I decided to use what I had in my craft supplies (not really a choice when getting extra materials means driving two hours), I had air dry clay left over from previous projects and it is relatively cheap to buy. Next I needed a template for my bowl (not owning a potting wheel or even knowing how to use one). I found two bowls that might do among my stash.

Air dry clay from my stash

A mat, a bowl, a rolling pin, coffee and a water bottle…I’m set

Oh, and a knife for shaping

Cut a chunk off the clay and mush it up until it’s soft.

Cover my chosen bowl with cling wrap

Roll the clay out flat with the rolling pin and mold it over the bowl.

Cut the spiral shape into the clay (carefully) and be sure to leave a gap wide enough for yarn to pass through

Sand the rough edges off the bowl once it’s dry, especially the spiral bit

Another possible mold

I decided to try molding inside this one

Before sanding the bowl down, you can see how rough the spiral is

Using my new yarn bowls

While I don’t actually need them to knit, or even to keep my yarn from getting tangled, the little yarn bowls are fun and decorative. I think I will make some more to sell at the markets and on Etsy. Maybe I can add paint to them, or use different coloured clay to make them.

Up-cycled wardrobe – Last 2015 update (probably)

Back in June I challenged myself to make a weeks worth of clothes using mostly up-cycled materials.
So far I have succeeded making some items from my challenge list…

Seven pairs of underpants, in fact I made ten pairs.

Three skirts

Three pairs of long pants, I just can’t stop making these.

At the moment I am working on making some tops from remnant materials I have found in my stash and at the second hand store. After that I will tackle shorts and socks (not together obviously). The hard things like bras and shoes will be left until last… I have a few ideas.

The prototype top, simple but comfortable.

More and more of my clothes are hand made now. I am really pleased with my progress on this challenge. I am wearing everything I make regularly and even making some things not on the list originally (like house dresses).