Handmade accessories to keep you warm…

I’m always feeling the cold and over a the past few years this has inspired me to design and make items that primarily keep me warm. I love to crochet and knit, having learned both as a child, and I find the slow processes to be very meditative; I also have a dislike for fast fashion preferring to support small businesses where I can – so it made sense to put these ideas together.

Crochet in progress

I started by making fingerless gloves – I needed a way to keep my hands warm while still using a computer/phone etc. I soon realised the benefits of keeping the pulse in my wrist covered all the times. Then came the infinity cowl – this is a great way to keep your neck warm without having a long scarf dangling in the way 🙂 And finally on to socks. I’ve been hand knitting them for a while, but I struggled with short row heels and they just took me ages to make. Having invested in a 3d printer just before lockdown my husband has printed me a circular sock knitting machine!! Game changer! It came with a massive learning curve but I have now come out the other side and can happily make a pair of socks in a day rather than in weeks.

I’ve started to expand my product range to make practical items for the home such as my 100% cotton washcloths – suitable for face, kitchen or bathroom, that are easily washed and kind to the environment. Mobile phone covers are great if, like me, you throw your phone in your bag next to keys etc that will scratch the screen. A small wrist or overbody strap can also be added to keep your phone safe.

Over the winter months I’ve been busy making lots of items that will be available for sale at local craft markets (visit my upcoming events page for details). Below is a little taster…

Fingerless gloves – £15
Fingerless gloves – £15
Fingerless gloves – £15
Alpaca socks – £20
Woolly socks – £25
Infinity scarf – £15
Infinity scarf – £15
Crochet headband kit – £15
Mobile phone covers – £10
100% cotton washcloths – £3.50
Marble notebooks – £5

Spinning & weaving alpaca fleece

I’ve been staring at a bag of alpaca fleece for a while, not really knowing what to do with it. I knew I wanted to use it for weaving and that I needed to spin it. A friend suggested I try using a drop spindle and carders, so I bought some…watched a few Youtube videos…had a go…but got completely stuck!

Raw alpaca fleece

I thought I might have more luck learning in-person and had a look around for a course. I came across a two day spinning and weaving workshop in Norfolk, which looked perfect, so I signed up straight away!

I’d booked it 6 months in advance, so had to wait a while…

Day 1: Learning to spin

The first day was held on an alpaca farm. The textile studio was in a yurt that was alongside the alpaca fields – what’s not to love!

Spinning studio

I love alpacas. Their fleece is incredibly soft as it doesn’t contain lanolin, like sheep’s wool, so it doesn’t itch when worn next to the skin (something I struggle with); it’s lighter, warmer and stronger than sheep’s wool; it’s eco-friendly; and also very breathable.

These are a couple of alpacas on the farm whose fleece we were using…

Alpacas on the farm

We were given fleece that had already been carded and made into rolags. I loved how the rolags had been made from a mix of fleece colours and the owner knew exactly which alpacas they came from!

Rolags (left), Ashford spinning wheel (right)

To begin with I found learning to spin very tricky. It was a bit like patting your head and rubbing your tummy. The spinning wheel needs to rotate clockwise at a consistent pace (you start it off with your hand and use a foot peddle to keep it going) while you twist and feed the fleece onto the bobbin. If the wheel slows down it can start to rotate anti-clockwise and the fleece gets a bit tangled on the bobbin. If the twist isn’t tight enough the fleece will break; if the twist is too tight the fleece will break – ahhhh!!

After a few attempts, the penny dropped and I got in the rhythm of the process: keep the wheel spinning, feed in the right amount of yarn; and give it enough twist. During the session the aim was to fill two bobbins with roughly equal amounts of spun fleece, which could then be plyed together into a skein.

Spinning fleece (left) and twisting the plyed yarn into a skein (right)
Finished skein

Day 2: Weaving a journal cover

The second day was held in a textile studio in Norwich. Our skein from the previous day had been washed, dried and wound into a ball. We could then chose a few other alpaca yarns to work with alongside our own yarn. I opted for a duck egg blue, slate grey, calico and mustard.

My chosen selection of alpaca yarns to weave

The warp had already been set up on a rigid heddle loom for us and we were ready to start weaving.

I began to weave back and forth, making sure not to pull the yarn too tight at the sides when changing direction.

Beginning to weave

I wanted to weave blocks of colours. I added variety and contrast by weaving a different number of rows in each colour and mixed up the order in which I used them. The piece worked up really quickly.

Final stages of the weave

We were making journal covers for an A6 Seawhite sketchbook, so once the weave was long enough to cover the outside of the book, I cut it off the loom. The inside of the cover was lined with a co-ordinating fabric. I sewed two side pockets into it to hold the journal in place.

The finishing touch was to add an Indian silk bow…

Finished journal cover

Now I have a better understanding of the spinning process, I’ve started to use my drop spindle again and I’m having much better results. It’s just a lot slower than a spinning wheel. I’m now on the lookout for a secondhand Ashford spinning wheel, I’ve got the bug!

3D printed Circular Sock Knitting Machine

I love socks! I began knitting my own socks a few years ago. They were quite complicated to master but once I got it, I got it. At first I tried knitting them on four double-pointed needles, but I didn’t get on with them – too many gaps between the needles. Then I moved on to a small circular needle which gave me much better results.

A selection of my hand-knitted socks

Sock yarn is mostly 4ply (which is quite a thin yarn), so knitting 4ply socks by hand is a very slow process (they can take me about a week to knit one sock).

I first saw a circular sock knitting machine being used on TV (I didn’t even know they existed!) and thought “wow that’s quick”. I had a search for vintage sock machines but when I saw the price I thought “no way”. After more searching I found someone who had used a 3D printer to print a sock machine and thought “ooh!” We have a 3D printer and my husband was up for giving it a try.

The 3D printer files had thankfully been uploaded to Printables.com, so we downloaded them and started printing…

CSM drum being 3D printed

Many prints failed…which is a common occurrence…but after several months we eventually printed all the parts…over 40 in total!

Over 40 x 3D printed parts

Next step – “how on earth does this all fit together??”

CSM construction begins

Thankfully the printer came with instructions. I did find them a little tricky to understand, but I go there…eventually.

My 3D printed Circular Sock Machine

Woop! Woop! Testing was a very exciting stage. Slowly turning the handle I needed to check everything was working properly: make sure the handle cranked; the drum collar rotated around the drum; the stitch counter incremented with each turn; and the cams moved the needles up and down as the handle cranked. Yes!

Ok, now I needed to work out how to knit…and cast on!! Everyone online talked about a cast-on bonnet. I’d never heard of this. But once I made one it made casting on a breeze.

After a few test pieces (that involved lots of yarn dropping off needles, and me learning how to pick up stitches) I was finally ready to make my first sock…

My first CSM sock in progress

After a very steep learning curve, and numerous headaches, I have managed to crank out a recognisable sock!

My first CSM sock

There is still plenty to learn, but for my first attempt I’m very excited by the results. Just need to make a matching sock now!

Our new printing press!

At our last studio, we inherited the use of a lovely old printing press, but when we moved we had to leave it behind.

HOFS printing press we left behind

When we moved to our new studio we decided we’d like to get our own printing press. So we asked fellow printmakers for advice and we were directed towards Ironbridge Printmakers, based in Shropshire. They are a family-run business and have been building their own range of printing presses since 1980.

We chose their Little Thumper press as we don’t often print larger than A4 plus our studio isn’t that spacious. They would have delivered the press to us but we decided to visit Ironbridge to collect it.

We hadn’t been to Ironbridge before – it was so lush and beautiful…

Ironbridge, Shropshire

At the printmakers we had booked an intro workshop to learn how best to set up the press for lino, intaglio and collagraph printing. Thank you Jenny, we learned so much!

Ironbridge Printmaking workshop

The press dismantled into a several smaller pieces and easily fitted into the car for the journey home.

Leigh Art Trail 2023

This year I exhibited at the Leigh Art Trail with SEVEN Collective at the Refill Room. Our chosen theme for the year was ‘Seasons’ and we each produced 2 x DL concertina sketchbooks: one for autumn and winter; and one for spring and summer. For each season I also took inspiration from a different artist.

Autumn – inspired by Gustav Klimt

Using mixed media and collage, for me, Autumn is all about the rich colour palette of reds, oranges and golds.

Autumn sketchbook (inspired by Gustav Klimt)

Winter – Inspired by William Kentridge

The key visual element of winter, for me, is seeing the silhouette of skeletal trees against the sky.

I had recently visited a William Kentridge exhibition at the RA in London and took inspiration from his use of old text pages for backgrounds and his simple drawn animations.

Winter sketchbook (inspired by William Kentridge)

I created my own simple, stop-frame-animation of trees blowing in the wind which you could see via a QR code on one of my sketchbook pages.

Spring – Inspired by Flora Bowley

My spring sketchbook was heavily influenced by the ‘brave intuitive’ approach of Flora Bowley. As spring was very late to arrive this year it was a difficult sketchbook to start, so I relied heavily on being intuitive. Spring, for me, is all about seeing new life in the garden. Green shoots appear along with springtime flowers: daffodils, tulips, bluebells and my ever-favourite Fritillaria flowers.

Spring sketchbook (inspired by Flora Bowley)

Summer – Inspired by Antonio Gaudi

Summer season, for me, is seeing an explosion of bright colours and patterns in the clothes people wear. This reminded me of Gaudi’s mosaics, in particular Parc Guell, Barcelona.

Summer sketchbook (inspired by Antonio Gaudi)

The Leigh Art Trail was on from 8-16 July.