I have a big fibre project on the go (really I just started planning it) it is a really long term project that involves a lot of different fibre crafts. To get the ball rolling, I washed a kilo of fleece from Eli. Now it needs to be carded before I can start to spin. To card this much wool with a set of hand carders would take a very long time…hours of carding every evening for weeks. Luckily, I have recently (within a year or two of the current day anyway) bought myself a drum carder and wool picker set. A drum carder is a nasty looking contraption that cards huge amounts of fibre in one go, simply by turning the handle (well…there is a bit more to it than that).
First I need to run the wool through the picker. This is a chute with nails sticking out in all directions inside it. The wool is passed through the chute and is pulled apart and fluffed up in the process. This breaks off any brittle bits, catches most of the short cuts (little lumps of fleece that are too short to spin) and shakes out some of the vegetable matter.
Next I take tiny bits of the fluffy fleece and pass it through the drum carder, being careful to only put in small amounts at a time. During this I use a brush to push the fleece down onto the drum so I can fit a lot of fleece into the batt (a batt is a big mat of prepared fibre for spinning).
Lastly, I break the circle of fibre on the drum and slowly peel the batt off. I can either put this batt back through to get a smoother finish (or add some other colours to it) or I can go straight to spinning it.
The drum carder does make it easier to process large lumps of fleece into spinnable batts, but the end product is not as smooth and easy to spin as when I card with the hand carders. The fibre choice probably makes a difference to the outcome as well. This new bit of equipment has helped me process the fleece to yarn more quickly, so has been worth the money (they are fairly expensive), but I think the hand carders will win out for fine fibre or special projects.
My youngest daughter recently sent me a present which included three beeswax wraps, which I put into immediate use. I use them to cover the bowl while I proof bread, while resting pastry, I use them to wrap lunch for the day, to wrap cheese in the fridge and to wrap the bread in the cupboard. I love them, and three is not enough for the various uses I put them to. So I am making more for myself (of course).
First, I need cotton fabric. The wraps need to be made from 100% cotton, so I looked at old shirts, old sheets and in my fabric stash. I found some likely candidates, but nothing that stood out as 100% cotton; it is very hard to find something second hand that is all cotton (at least in my house). Next I went looking at Spotlight online, and I found some very colourful (school themed) fat quarters. I ordered enough to make piles of new wraps.
Next we need beeswax (as a starting point), I have always got organic beeswax on hand as I use it to make soap, hand creme, furniture polish, etc. I did come across some tutorials that recommend using ingredients such as pine resin and jojoba oil to help make the wraps more antibacterial and longer lasting. Eventually I came across a kit that was for sale locally. I ordered a test kit through Ballina Honey The kit came in record time and contains everything I need to make my wraps except the fabric. There are some beeswax chunks, a bag of pine resin and a small pouch of jojoba oil; I am now ready to go…
The instructions in the kit gave three options…
As I was looking for the simplest method, I chose to heat up the required 2:1:small splash ratio of (respectively) beeswax, resin and jojoba oil in a pot on the stove. I floated the pot in a larger pot of water to make a double boiler.
Then I tried to paint the wax mixture on with a paint brush. This was not very sucessful as the wax seemed to take forever to soak through. I speculated that this was because it was a fairly cool day. The surface of the fabric was left lumpy and caked. So on to method two.
I put the fabric between two pieces of baking paper and ironed it with my tiny little 12 Volt sewing iron. This worked to a degree, but because it takes so long to heat up it was a very slow process.
When I was sick of ironing (it doesn’t take long), I put the fabric on a baking sheet and popped it in the oven for a few minutes. This worked really well and I decided this was the way to do it.
So for the next several hours I popped pieces of fabric in the oven with the premade beeswax mixture.
I love using these wraps, and they will reduce our use of cling wrap and aluminium wrap. I wonder if I could make some oiled cotton to sew bags and things out of?
As predicted, the lounge recovering is going slowly. This weekend I managed to cover the arms of one armchair. I don’t mind taking my time with the job though, I am learning so much along the way. The fact that the whole pile of work-in-progress is sitting in everyone’s way is annoying, but we are coping with a minimum of snarky comments and stubbed toes.
The inside arm covering was not without it’s challenges. There was a broken piece of frame to be fixed and a lot of tucking and stapling to do…
I do love the wheat colour of the fabric, but I am learning that I have to go very slowly on this project or I make silly mistakes like putting the wadding too far forward over the front of the arm. Oh well… on to the inside back next.
After getting all excited about the Sunbrella fabric in the last upholstery post, I went home and measured up the lounge and chairs to see how much I needed (lots of complicated measurements there) only to discover that I would need approximately 24 metres of fabric. At $50 a meter, that ended up being $1200; way too much for me. I am not willing to spend thousands on a piece of furniture, especially when I am new to the hobby and don’t know what I am doing.
I ended up going to Spotlight (online of course) and matching the colours as closely as I could (probably not that close, given the nature of digital monitors and human perception) and buying $500 worth of fabric. I also ordered some bits and pieces such as cardboard strips, upholstery nails and thread and a huge load of wadding (oh and a little upholstery tool kit) from an online upholstery store based in South Australia. Then I waited…
During the wait I discovered (by watching even more YouTube videos) that I would need another staple gun as the two hand operated ones we own do not have staples long enough for upholstery. The staple gun and a big box of staples was purchased before the fabric arrived.
Then I received an email informing me that the cotton wadding I had ordered was out of stock and no suitable natural alternative was available. I searched all over the internet without finding what I wanted, until my accidentally genius partner said “Can you use pure wool as wadding?”, some research revealed that you can indeed use pure wool batting to pad out upholstery. This little discovery may have saved me $100 dollars and cleared off half a shelf in my craft room. Wool is commonly used to wrap seating and back cushions as it compresses to a much greater degree than cotton, meaning that if I use it on the deck (the base that the cushions sit on) and back rest areas of the lounge I will need to use much more of it to get the same amount of padding. I will also need to put a fabric cover over the wadding to help prevent felting.
In my craft room at present I have about a wool bale of various fleeces, some are too fine and beautiful to use as sofa stuffing, but others are a bit course and hard to spin. I will use a pile of these fleeces, washed and carded, to stuff my lounge. I also have a lot of cotton fabric from sheets and quilt covers in my fabric stash that can be used to put a layer over the wool batting before I cover it with the final fabric. I knew there would be a way to up-cycle or re-use things in this new hobby (there always is).
In the process of researching this project I discovered a great YouTube channel on natural upholstery. This channel is dedicated to using natural materials to reupholster furniture (right up my alley). I found some really interesting ideas and tips here.
So the fabric began to arrive in bits and pieces; the red came first. It is very red…almost iridescent, luckily it will be used for the deck and for the stripes on the inside backs, so the really bright colour will not be over powering (I hope).
I followed the instructions on the various YouTube clips and used the old fabric as a template to cut the new piece. Then I stitched a seam across it to sew the seam between the deck and the front padded bit. This little strip at the front should be slightly higher than the deck behind it (to help hold the cushion in the seat), so I padded it out with raw (scoured and carded) wool and put two layers of cotton batting over the lot. I decided to re-use the cotton and wool felt (the grey stuff) that was already on the chair and to just add a bit more padding to the thin bits.
Of course, after I had sewn the seam, by hand, with a curved needle, I discovered that the fabric was not quite wide enough (I made it a bit bigger than the template on all sides, not sure why it was too short). So rather than undo the sewing and cut another piece, I hand sewed some strips of scrap fabric to the short edges and continued on. The deck for the next chair will be cut MUCH wider than the template.
Lastly, I stapled the fabric down tight with my trusty new staple gun. It took a lot of pulling, snipping easement cuts and smoothing fabric, but I think it came out alright.
I am enjoying this process and learning a new skill. The red is so much brighter than it appears to be on the screen, luckily this bit will be hidden by a cushion most of the time.
Yes…I know I said I wouldn’t take on another hobby, especially one that takes up a lot of space and time…but…
I was scrolling through Facebook Marketplace (as you do) and I saw a striking lounge (to me anyway) and it was free (my favorite kind). I messaged the owner, without much hope that it would still be available, only to find out that it was. Now I had to tell my reluctant partner that I wanted a new lounge.
After a medium amount of wheedling, convincing and outright bullying, he agreed to drive over and pick up our new hobby…err…lounge.
The lounge is old, faded and while the armchairs have good springs, the lounge itself badly needs re-springing or something. The fabric is thin and starting to rip in places, but I just fell in love (of the furniture persuasion).
We got the set home and unloaded it into the only open area in the humpy; beside the heater. I will work on the re-covering here, right in everyone’s way. I hope to complete it all during this school holidays, but I am probably fooling myself.
Several hundred YouTube clips later, I decided to start the project. If I start of the lounge chairs first I can learn as I go (in theory). The lounge chairs don’t need any structural work (probably) so I can develop my skills on them then move on to the big job of the lounge itself.
The clips all stress that re-covering has a sequence; the last piece on is the first piece off. So I looked over the chair and found the last piece on, which happened to be the bottom dust cover. To get that off, I had to remove the back wheels and their little timber bits.
Once the bottom was off, I could see that the chair is webbed and has coil springs in the back and seat, which apparently means my find is from the posh end of the furniture gene pool.
The next piece is the outside side pieces. The little cover plate things at the front were easy to pry off, but then things got difficult as there are cardboard strips with about a million staples under some of those folds. The piping (or welting as it is properly called…apparently) is sewn onto the red fabric and stapled onto the yellowish side pieces, meaning that there are a lot of staples to remove.
Up until now I have been using a screw driver and a pair of side cutters to remove staples, but then I ran into a problem; the pleats at the front of the chair (under the decorative plate thing) are held on with actual nails. These nails have proven themselves immune to screwdrivers and I can’t get the claw of the hammer under them as yet.
In the end, I used a hammer to gently tap the screw driver under the edge of each nail. This made a bit of a mess of the wood, but the nails (or upholstery tacks) are out.
Now that the front arm panels and both outside side pieces are off, I can work on removing the deck covering (the deck is the flat bottom of the chair that the cushion sits on). Once the deck covering is removed I can start putting new fabric on it. Of course, that means I have to choose and buy the new fabric.
Apparently, the recovering process happens bit by bit; first the deck (for this piece anyway) is recovered, then the arms are stripped and recovered, then the back. Doing it this way means I can avoid losing bits of loose stuffing and wadding as the piece sits there waiting for me to get some free time and energy to cover the next bit. It also breaks the process down into manageable pieces for me to focus on.
I am off to town today to see if I can find some upholstery fabric and assorted bits of hardware…wish me luck.
I found an upholstery shop, and it carries a fabric called Sunbrella. Sunbrella is an acrylic fabric made for indoor and outdoor use. I would not normally use an acrylic fabric on anything, but this time I decided to go with the hard wearing and easy care option. This lounge will have to suffer a lot of indignities in it’s life with us (not just dogs on the lounge here) so I think it is important that it be properly dressed for the job.
We looked through the samples of colours and found a few combinations we like, then we took down the details and went away to think about it. The fabric costs about $50 a metre and there will be other needs on top of that (wadding, piping, staples, etc), I don’t want to make a hasty decision. Besides it is fun to think about the possibilities before I commit to only one.
It will take a week to get the fabric after it is ordered, so I have changed my plan. I will strip the other chair (and maybe the lounge) to the same stage as the first chair in my remaining week of holidays, then when I have the fabric, I will cover them one at a time. That means work on the project really slows down because I will be working on other things.
I enjoyed making my fabric boxes so much that I decided to make some smaller ones from the scraps left over. These little hold-alls have the advantage of being able to squash into a smaller space because they are flexible. The process of making them is also really easy;
Cut two pieces of fabric and one piece of interfacing to your desired size. The size could be a square or a rectangle, as long as you can match one side to the other. I went with 30cm squares to make these small trays because that is the size of the scraps I had left over.
Fold your lining in half and sew up the sides with the right sides together. Do the same for the outer fabric, the interfacing can be sewn to the back of the outer lining at this point.
Fold the corners down so that the side seam lays on top of the bottom fold. Decide how wide you want your base to be and mark the measurement. Sew across the corner and trim the excess. Do this for the outer and inner fabric pieces.
Turn the outer fabric right-way-out and put the lining inside. Fold down the lip of your new fabric tray or bin and sew around the lip to make a nice neat seam.
Now fill your new hold-all with all the little pieces of junk laying around.
They are so much fun to make, I think I will make a heap of them for my clothes draws. They are a great stash buster too, my fabric stash is down to a manageable size in such a short time and I have very little fabric waste from making them.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
My bag is coming together
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%).
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.
The bags I have made so far in the washing machine ready to felt
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.