Festive knits

Advent Calendar 260x310Cosy up on your sofa and have a go knitting your own Christmas decorations, either for on the tree or cluster them on a shelf or mantelpiece for a seasonal scene.  There is a whole family of winter animal patterns are available for free from Rowan with their suggestion of Fine Tweed and British Sheep Breeds yarns.  Penguin or polar bear, owl or rabbit, all are cute, and even come with their own accessories.

Or if knitting is not your bag, pictured is an advent calendar designed by Jemma Weston (pattern available for free from Rowan) to crochet and felt.  It makes good use of all those odd bits of yarn you might have left.  The calendar is a crochet and felting pattern.  It can be saved and savoured for many years, and filled with little treats.

Handmade in Britain – the CC edit

ELakelinI first lingered to admire the beautiful wooden vessels created by Eleanor Lakelin from British wood.  Eleanor studied cabinet-making, after a career in teaching, and was the first woman to win the annual Austin’s Prize for Craftsmanship in Wood in 1998.  More recently, Eleanor has focused on turning wood on a lathe to carve decorative pieces and functional objects such as bowls and food boards.

Eleanor’s vessels are sensory pieces that you need to see, feel and smell in order to fully digest their beauty.  The wood is from trees that have fallen or had to be felled, and each different species of tree has distinct characteristics and qualities as a wood.   There are ethereal sculptural forms created from the wood of a 300 year old horse chestnut that was turned, carved, sandblasted and bleached.  Sycamore lends a warm, golden hue to bowls carved with dimples that look almost aquatic.  Bowls made from olive ash have a tonal colour as the wood closer to the centre of the trunk is darker.  Each piece tells the story of its origin, and Eleanor’s sympathetic interventions using only the lathe, sanding, bleaching and scorching.

After training as a painter at The Royal College of Art, London in the early 1960s, Rachel Scott began spinning and weaving in 1976.  Initially a practical response to pressing need for some carpet, Rachel found great satisfaction in this new  medium for her artistic expression.  Her first loom was made from some boards salvaged from a skip, and her brother made her spinning wheel.

RScottRachel undertakes every aspect of product.   The fleeces come from friends who live on the Berkshire Downs and different breeds of British sheep. Rachel cards and combs the fibres before hand-spinning them into wool.  The wool remains undyed and tapestry woven on an upright wooden frame loom.  The rugs are bold, geometric designs in the subtle colours of the natural wool from different breeds. Black Welsh (black with rusty tips), Devon Longwools (cream), Manx Logthans (soft, pale brown), Shetlands (fine,brown, grey,black), Hebrideans (soft,black) and Herdwicks (pale and dark grey).  The rugs are approximately 150 x 75 cm.  They can standalone, or be sewn together to make bigger rugs, or stair carpets.  I love the contrast of the muted shades with the strong patterns.  And, of course, the wool is natural, renewable, hard-wearing, breathable, warm in winter and cool in summer!

I had a short pitstop at Offkut, to admire the sculptural lighting and furniture made from reclaimed industrial salvage.  They had lent a stool to a weary neighbouring exhibitor and she vouched for its comfort.  Their furniture is certainly built to last.  Then a mini-domestic emergency had me pedalling home, pulled away from admiring the marine and floral designs of Justine Munson‘s porcelain.

Rachel’s rugs will next be available at Pullens Yards Winter Open Studios, 6th-8th December.

Eleanor’s work will be available at the Cockpit Arts Open Studios, 29th Nov- 1st Dec.

 

Where’s woolly? Here it is

 

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And voila!  The result of my first experiment in knitting at the Knit Nation class with Wool in the Gang at John Lewis earlier this week.  The whole project took between two and three hours for this complete beginner.  The Zion Lion knit kit (£30) had very clear, concise and easy to follow instructions.  I have been bitten by the knit bug!  My daughters were both fascinated by the process, and very excited to receive their one size seems to fit all beanie hat.

There will be more to follow……

 

Five of the best winter warmers for Wool Week

Here are five of the best DSC8077winter warmers for Wool Week.

1. A bang on trend chevron throw from Tori Murphy (£250).  The throw is 100% Merino lambswool woven in Lancashire, washed in the Yorkshire Dales and made in Nottingham. The throw is deliciously soft, with a reversible design and hand finished with a traditional blanket stitch.

2. An organic duvet from Devon Duvets.  A duvet made from platinum grade British Wool that has not been bleached or chemically treated and 100% cotton and is handcrafted in Devon (from £130).   The untreated wool fibres work help to repel and wick away moisture encouraging evaporation, leaving an environment that is not moist enough for dust mites or bacteria to easily survive.  Regular airing helps the wool fibres maintain their capabilities.  You could even add a folding pillow, whose smart design enables you to air the pillow.

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3. A blanket from Welsh mill Melin Tregwynt, in the heart of Pembrokeshire and owned by the same family since 1912, the products fuse traditional Welsh designs with innovative colour.  For a more midcentury zing of colour look at Seven Gauges studio , whose lambswool products are designed and machine knitted in England.

4. A hot water bottle.  Handmade in Lampeter from sections of vintage Welsh blankets that have otherwise been damaged.  They are available in standard size (£30), and mini hand warmer size. (£19.99). from Jane Beck Welsh Blankets.  As the name would suggest the company has a wide range of Welsh blankets new and vintage, as well as other woollen accessories.

5. A desinature-shop-honey-green-450x352felt lampshade made of 100% wool felt dyed with environmentally friendly inks from Desinature (£28).

And if you fancy having a go, the Handweavers Studio runs an extensive workshop programme and regular weaving classes.

 

Knit Nation

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A kick start to Wool Week, with a free knitting class from Wool and the Gang in the John Lewis store in central London as part of Knit Nation.  I hadn’t picked up a set of knitting needles for twenty years, not since I had knit-perled along side my grandma.  However, Alexandra from WATG was undaunted by my absolute beginner status.   I was swiftly given an enormous set of wooden knitting needles and chosen a peppermint green ball of chunky wool.  Slip knot in place, cast on came out of the recesses of my mind, knit I could remember, and purl I was gently reminded of, and before I knew it I had my first row of ribbed stitches under my belt.  The giant needles gave me a sense of being Lilliputian, as did the sense of wonder at the evident skill on the sofas around me.  It was beyond my skill level to talk and knit simultaneously, but there were other novices to join me in my meditative state, and the industry was infectious, creating an immediate sense of community.

With the chunky wool and giant needles progress was rapid, and

knafter only an hour the hat was already starting to materialise.  Others in the groups attend or run regular knitting groups, and it is easy to see how quickly you can get to a level where you could maintain a good chat and knit in the company of friends.  It might be a while before I have knitted a pouf or cushion but I’m on my way.

The UK Handknitting Association has all sorts of information from free patterns to tips on learning to knit or knitting groups in your area.

Wool Week

 

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Wool Week (14th-20th October) starts tomorrow with a variety of events from Edinburgh to London to highlight the joys and virtues

of wool as a natural, renewable and biodegradable fibre.  Knit Nation is a series of free knitting classes and drop ins hosted by some of the UK’s most exciting knitting brands.  There are even men only classes from Wool And The Gang, so cast those stereotypes aside and try something new.

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And nominate your favourite interior wool product for the OneWool promotion.  It could be a rug, carpet, fabric, furnishing or even art, such as the gorgeous textured acoustic wall panels made out of felt by Anne Kyyro Quinn. My nomination is likely to be similarly surprising, fun and functional: the Solidwool chair, I saw last week at Best of Britannia.  To submit your nomination, e-mail a picture of your chosen wool product and your reason for choosing it (50-100 words) to onewool@campaignforwool.org.

Check out the Campaign for Wool’s site for a full list of events.

Knitting and Stitching Show

7819610_assocImage_3This weekend it is the Knitting and Stitching Show at Alexandra Palace in London, 10th -13th October.  If you need a little inspiration to make, do and mend, explore a new hobby, or advance an old one there is plenty on offer.  There are exhibits from some of the leading names in textiles, as well as taster workshops for the amateur and plenty of supplies available for to get you going.

Carefully curated would be heading for the Upcycling Academy,  headed by Barley Massey of Fabrications. and joined by TRAID, War on Want and Craftivist Collective.  There will be all manner of creative avenues for old cast-offs from rosette making to knitting with waste fabric, plus lots of customisation and ideas!

A hearty appetiser before Wool Week starts on Monday.

The Best of Best of Britannia

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After an aborted attempt on the opening night, I made it to BOB on Saturday afternoon.  As the sun shone down into the courtyard, there was quite a buzz, and it wasn’t just the boutique refreshments and high-octane entrance past a couple of Morgan cars.

Spread over three floors, there was a wide range of exhibitors from Fletcher powerboats to natural beauty care. I made a beeline for Solidwool to admire their beautiful chairs made from a sustainable composite of UK wool and bio-resins.

bob2 The material could be moulded into a wide variety of things, the chairs are just a starting point.  Designed and manufactured in Devon, the founder Justin Floyd, wanted to combine his product design with support for Devon’s wool heritage.

From the new to the old, vintage shoe lasts from the 1930s that have been recycled and remade into bookends, coat hooks, lamps, and even loo roll holders by White Dove and Wonder.

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It looks rather dashing in our downstairs loo!  Next door was the cosy collection of blankets from Romney Marsh.  The sixth generation of sheep farmers on the Romney Marsh in Kent hand-pick Romney and Merino fleeces which are hand-processed and woven in the UK by traditional weevers to create covetable cushions and throws.

More furry fleeces are at the the heart of Penrose Products, makers of luxury bedding made from alpaca fibres and organic cotton.  No chemicals or dyes are used in manufacturing the products, whose sleep performance rivals that of wool.

Leaves foraged from parks and paths, as well as kitchen scraps are used to create Entanglewood‘s botanical prints on lengths of cotton fabric that have themselves often been salvaged or off-cut.

bob3The results are subtle, warm colours evocative of an autumnal walk, complete with the silhouette of the leaves themselves.  The fabrics can be purposed as shawls, cushions or bedspreads.

Outside of my regular remit (it was the weekend), I was drawn to Sara C‘s collection of clothes with their vibrant nature-inspired prints.  Made from organic, natural fibres such as bamboo, cupro and peace silk, and eco-friendly dyes, and manufactured in the UK, the collection feels good on many levels.  I could not resist a scarf.  If it had been summer, I would have indulged in a pair of Mudlark sandals, too! With willow heels that are a bi-product of the cricket bat industry, and vegetable tanned leather, their credentials might be as good as they look.

 

 

Decorex highlights

PETDecorex International was the long tail of my London Design excursions.  A design show that is definitely established, decidedly high-end, and distinctly for the trade, I was curious to see what it offered for carefully curated.  The ‘feature’ entrance, designed by Kit Kemp, was worthy of the superlatives.  ‘Beautiful’, ‘stunning’ and ‘luxurious’ can be overworked in the Decorex environment, but they are were fitting adjectives for the the display inspired by the Silk Route.  I loved the hanging pendants from PET Lamp.  The clue is in the name, as the lamps are made from recycled plastic bottles and woven using traditional artisanal techniques in Colombia.

Once into the fray,  I was spoilt for choice. I went to admire the new designs on the stand of Fine Cell Work, the social enterprise that trains prisoners in paid, skilled, creative needlework to foster hope, discipline and self esteem, where a needlepoint demonstration was underway.   Another organisation with a strong ethical purpose is GoodWeave who are working to end child labour in the carpet industry and boost educational opportunities for children in weaving communities in India, Nepal and Afghanistan.  Their website has a directory to find rugs ethically produced by GoodWeave approved producers.

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Then onto textile companies, and the riot of colour of at Timorous Beasties (seen here on their Omni Splatt cushion, £144), was in glorious contrast to the cool, clean botanical prints at Ivo Prints.  Ivo Prints have been producing textiles and wall coverings under license to The Royal Botanic Gardens Kew at their small factory in west London since early 2011.

FABRICSThe Kew Collection also includes  home accesories, cushions, bags and other gifts and a share of proceeds supports Kew’s conservation work .  The collection is closely connected to its subject matter, with evidence of the seeds in the weaving as a reminder of the natural and plant based origins of the cloth.  Only water-based, non toxic pigment colours are used to print the collection.

Water-based paints and pigments feature highly at Little Greene.  Little Greene Dyeworks started in 1773 making dye solutions to the cotton trade.  Today, all their products are still manufactured in the UK, with a determination to produce high-quality paints and papers that are environmentally-friendly.  They use only natural, organic and safe-synthetic pigments.   Oil-base paints use vegetable oils, making them child-friendly.  And a contribution for every paint and wallpaper sale goes to English Heritage, with whom they have collaborated to develop a range of authentic historical paint colours.  I particularly liked their sculpture, pictured below, which reminds me of the children’s song, “we’ve got the whole world in our hands”.

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Elsewhere, I was drawn to the tactile display of woollen fabrics on the Moon stand.  Established in 1837 in Leeds, Abraham Moon & Sons Ltd, remains the only vertical mill left in Britain.  From fleeces to final dispatch, they control the entire manufacturing process with dyeing, blending, carding, spinning, weaving and finishing processes all taking place on one site.  Their Natural Wool collection makes extensive use of un-dyed wools.  As well as furnishing fabrics, Moon also produces throws and fashion accessories including cushions, baby blankets and scarves under their Bronte by Moon label.   N.B. Abraham Moon fabrics are used to upholster the Moonshine footstool from Galvin Brothers – see my Tent London post.  Gorgeous!

Other highlights were the reclaimed antique tiles from Bert and May.  Bert and May are also able to make reproductions of any tile in their antique collection or your own design or specification to complete a project.  Their new showroom is opening next month.   Finally, and relax, in the folding rocking chair made from sustainable steam-bent beech by Wawa.  It folds to 15cm wide, and weighs only 5kg.  Perfect for confined spaces!!

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Design Junction

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After pedalling furiously across London from 100% design, it was a relief to have a rest in the beautiful handcrafted Scapa rocking chair from Pengelly Design.  The chair, designed by Simon Pengelly, combines a contemporary wooden frame with a traditional technique of weaving oat straw into chair backs. Pengelly Design are collaborating with Jackie, pictured adding the finishing touches to a chair, and Marlene Miller of Scapa Crafts in the Orkney Isles to produce the chair in oak, ash or painted frames.

Rested, I took in the rest of the show that was filling with after work crowds.  First stop, Melin Tregwynt where their new colour ways, Knot Garden Indigo and Knot Garden Bluestone were on display, as well as a new range of bags made by Brady of Birmingham in the Melin Tregwynt fabrics.

Upstairs, I found a contrasting selection of woollens woven in Wales from Eleanor Pritchard.easterly1  Eleanor Pritchard’s aesthetic is influenced by English mid-century design, characterised by bold geometric and graphic reversible patterns, fused with traditional British textile crafts.  Designed in London, fabrics are woven in 100% pure new wool at a small traditional mill in South West Wales.

Luxurious woollen drapes, offset by shimmering wallpapers caught my eye at Rapture & Wright.  Their distinctive, contemporary graphic fabrics and wallpapers are handprinted in their Gloucestershire studio.  And then it was on to investigate the commotion at the recraft station.  [re]design were launching their new Make-It-Yourself book which contains step-by-step instructions for more than twenty designs made from domestic rubbish.

In contrast to many products we consume, the hand-crafted accessories for the home made by Turner and Harper are built to last.  They make simple things for everyday living with care and quality.

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My last stop of the day, was Granorte‘s fantastic selection of cork pendant lamps, stools, bowls and even bird boxes made from waste cork from wine stopper producers.  The cork wall panels created a geometric sculpture on the wall cast striking shadows, as well as providing acoustic and thermal insulation.  The stacking stool was comfortable, and as with all the products, they have a striking simplicity.

Cork has featured heavily in my LDF experience,  and I wondered whether it would feature on my final trip to Tent London.