This year I didn't get to take a course at the Association Summer School because I was of course teaching... in the past I've used the week to really get immersed in something brand new, and enjoy creating something with none of the pressures and distractions of being at home.
So I decided that I was going to treat myself, and used my teaching fee to go and learn how to do something new. I'd heard great things about West Dean College so I browsed their list of Short Courses, and found myself a course on contemporary quilt making at the start of December.
I know my way round a sewing machine, and have helped a friend make a couple of quilts, but it's something I wanted to learn more about, and I fancied the more freeform approach, because I am very much of the "what's the worst that can happen" frame of mind when it comes to making creative decisions. I tend to feel my way through a creative project making decisions as I go rather than do a great deal of planning. In day to day life I will plan everything down to the last second (you should see my Christmas holiday menu planner), but somehow when it comes to making things I am happy to just have a go and see if I can make things work.
I had the best time.
If it wasn't for the horrible train journeys (fingers crossed medical stuff gets sorted out so that I can go back to driving early in 2019) it would have been the perfect holiday.
This was the corridor to my bedroom.... there were tapestries from the 1700's on the wall, a marble staircase... I could go on. It felt like I was staying in a country house.... because I was staying in a country house!
The food was absolutely wonderful, the biggest problem was that I wanted to eat all of it! To the point of sitting looking wistfully at the pudding display and being genuinely sad about only being able to find room for one of the selection.
During lunch breaks you can walk the grounds and gardens. It being December they weren't at their best, but walking in to this greenhouse was like entering in to a tropical jungle!
The course was taught by Abigail Booth from Forest + Found, and was truly excellent.
Abigail introduced us to the principles of the style of quilt making we were using, but then was quite content to let us go our own creative ways. Of the 6 of us on the course we all produced very varied quilts by the end of the 4 days. Three were very unstated affairs in blue and white 2 using Japanese style fabrics, one using old clothing. One was closer to a more traditional quilt, but still took the sew it together and don't be afraid to fiddle around to make it work principle, and one really embraced the idea of using a quilt to make a piece of art and used the fabric in a collage style to create an abstract landscape.
As ever, I wandered my own path, and turned my mountain of colourful fabrics in to something of a trip down memory lane. The centre is a tea towel I bought on a trip to Scotland when I was going to teach a workshop at Grampian Guild (that workshop became the start of my book, so is one I always remember very fondly).
From there I did something that bears a passing resemblance to log cabin, but without worrying about the length of the bits of fabric. The quilt uses some of the wax resist pieces of silk I made at Summer School 2015 with Isabella Whitworth, I also used pieces of the naturally dyed eco printed silk from Summer School 2017, and some of the scraps of a large piece of fabric I screen printed and then messed around on using some Procion dyes. It also uses some of the cotton I ice dyed and turned in to pyjama bottoms earlier this year, and some of the cotton I eco-dyed that also became pyjama bottoms. From Summer School in 2019 I bought some little bundles of fabric from Textile Traders adding in some more batik fabrics and some Ikat. There are a few pieces that I dyed with Montgomeryshire Guild earlier this summer when I shared some of the eco dyeing skills I'd picked up in 2017. I also used the scraps from various sewing projects, some Liberty lawn, and some Liberty linen, along with raiding the scraps bin from Mum's bags and needle cases. I even managed to use up some of the silk I bought back from my gap year trip to Thailand in 2002. The only fabric I bought specially were a few charm packs with small amounts of lots of colour.
The end result....
It is definitely not to everyone's taste, and I think a few of my course mates were utterly horrified at my freeform approach to colour and pattern. The quilting is a little erratic in places, going by train meant I had to borrow a sewing machine, and we had many disagreements as I battled with a large quilt on a small machine.
Abigail hand quilts all her work, but I am a realist and know that my speed of stitching would have left me going home with work still to do, and I was keen to avoid that, so the majority is machine quilted, with areas that are hand stitched using hand dyed silk threads.
The back uses up the larger pieces I had leftover, and revealed that Liberty lawn hoovers up loose dye. One of the staff at Westhope kindly bought along some bits of Batik she'd dyed and never used. I knew all my fabric had been washed, and wasn't going cause any problems, and therefore never even thought about any dye run off as I used the donated pieces. Luckily it pretty much only ended up sucking in to the cotton lawn, every other bit of fabric is exactly the same colour!
The quilt has been on my bed every since I get back, and I still can't believe that I made it. It contains so many happy memories and fabric that reminds me of places and people.
Writing this is my last job for 2019, after I hot publish I'm off to cook tea for my group of local spinning friends, and then have a couple of weeks with no work planned... there may well be sewing.
The past few weeks have been really busy, not with work, but with pleasure. November and December are always my quieter months, people are buying presents for others rather than fibre, and guild don't tend to want workshops because of concerns about poor weather, and December is when many hold their AGM.
All that means I get to go and do some nice things, because I have a bit more free time.
So at the end of November I took myself down to London for 3 days for some Christmas treats. I spent a lovely evening walking round Kew Gardens looking at their Christmas light display. At the start of the evening it was horribly busy, but by 8pm everything had got much quieter, and it meant I could stand and enjoy the lights. My photos are generally pretty dreadful, and utterly fail to do justice to the experience.
I also spent a whole day at the theatre watching Harry Potter and The Cursed Child, which was incredible, but a very, very long day watching Part 1 in the afternoon and Part 2 in the evening.
It feels like winter has been here for a very long time already... This was 9th November, when an unexpected snowfall put pay to my plans to go to guild that day! This is the main trunk road that runs past our house, and it caught the council out, because they'd not been out with the gritters or the snow ploughs.
Progress on knitting and spinning hasn't been very share worthy this month, lots of Christmas presents have been finished off, but they need to remain secret, and are generally of the useful sort rather than particularly inspiring! However I did go to Ruthin Craft Centre to see the textiles by Neil Bottle. The friends I went with weren't huge fans, but I really enjoyed the exhibition, the digitally printed fabrics glowed in a way that you just don't get with printing on paper. I'd have happily given any of them wall space if only any of them were small enough to actually fit on my walls!
The adjoining gallery also had an exhibition focusing on calligraphy and lettering that was equally stunning and filled with many treasures to explore. If you're close enough to visit I can recommend going, and the adjoining craft gallery is filled with many lovely handmade items that would be great for presents.
It's taken me a while to get round to writing this post because I did go on another holiday at the start of December... which was oh so wonderful. However, that deserves it's own post, and I have jobs that need to be done, otherwise I won't be taking any time off over Christmas! Look out for some new fibre in the shop shortly.
I wrote a version of this post last year, but thought an update would be timely!
Buying gifts related to someone's hobby can be tricky, but here's a few suggestions that should suit all sorts of budgets.
Firstly, if your spinner has a favourite dyer then don't be afraid to send that dyer an email with a budget and ask them to put together a parcel of fibre related treats for you. They'll be happy to help, and will be able to give the spinner something new to try, but also check their previous orders to see if they have any colour preferences.
I'm always happy to help people out in this way....
However, if you leave it too late (because the postal system has it's limits), then a subscription to a fibre club is an excellent present. You can set up a gift subscription to my Time Travellers Club really easily, just tick the "This is a Gift" box and the system will do the rest. You an choose to let the subscription run for 1, 3, 6 or 12 months, and the payment gets taken every month rather than 1 large sum up front, so it's a nice way to spread the cost out. So long as you order before the 23rd then the first parcel will be sent during January. A 100g subscription in the UK for 3 months works out at just over £30.
You won't get a fancy gift card through the post, so you might have to get creative with the way you hand over the present, but I'm sure if you pop in to a local shop you'll be able to find a nice card to write in.
If you're after stocking fillers then there are many lovely things that will make a spinner smile.
If you want to buy something a bit larger, then Akerworks bobbins are just the sort of treat that someone might really love, but struggle to justify (if you're outside the US then be quick, as they're made to order, and they'll have to make the postal journey. Don't forget to factor in any customs duty, you'll probably end up paying an extra 20% plus £8 handling once the parcels arrives in the UK.
I wrotea blogpost about why I love these bobbins, if you're wondering about why they're so good. Make sure you check the type of spinning wheel first.
If they're a spinner they're probably also a knitter or a crocheter. In which case an organiser for their needles or hooks is a lovely present. Or you could go for a case to hold their hand carders together.
There are lots of lovely bags and cases in the Quince Pie etsy shop.
Alternatively if they're a sewer then how about a handmade pin cushion, or a deluxe stitch ripper.
The Wood Beach Etsy shop is also filled with orifice hooks, niddy noddy's and yarn bowls, all of which make excellent gifts.
Now for the books.... books make excellent presents! Check the spinners book shelf first, as they may already own some of these.
Where possible I've linked to the Book Depository as they're a UK based company who pay their taxes, and usually price match Amazon.
The Spinners Book of Yarn Design If you only own one spinning book this should be it!
The Fleece and Fiber Sourcebook For the spinner who loves learning more about sheep and the quality of their wool
Yarnitecture For the spinner who wants to get better at analysing the sort of yarn they are spinning, and be more in control of the results.
A Guide to Spinning Hand Dyed Fibre My own small book, ideal for a spinner who likes working with hand dyed combed top.
Non-spinning books, but interesting for anyone who has a love of textiles.
Women's Work- The First 20,000 years.
The Golden Thread: How Fabric Changed History
The Human Thread
True Colours: World Masters of Natural Dyes and Pigments Not a technical how-to book, but a lovely look at people around the world using natural dyes.
Art and Science of Natural Dyes: Principles, Experiments and Results This one is pricey, but is probably the best science-based natural dyeing book I have ever seen. If someone is in to natural dyes, then this is a book they need to own.
Hand Dyeing Yarn and Fleece If they use synthetic dyes then this is probably the best book there is, though I really disagree with the way she applies to dye to fibre, great for yarn dyeing detail though. Unfortunately there's a big gap in the market for good books dealing with synthetic dyes, and fibre dyeing is particularly poorly covered.
A subscription to Ply magazine would also be a lovely gift. If you're outside the US then it may be better to buy a subscription from one of their stockists.
Finally, if they spin the chances are they wear a lot of wool, and that eventually leads to bobbly jumpers. This tool is what I use to revive my hand knits, I've linked to Lakeland, but is available on Amazon, Ebay, or various other places.
So spinners, what goodies would you like to receive in your stockings this year?