Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Beautiful Bundanon

I had a wonderful day trip on Sunday, a drive in beautiful weather through stunning country (particularly going through the Moss Vale area which is always so green) to visit my sister at Bundanon. There was a long stretch of potholed gravel road to get there - and of course to get out again - but it was worth it. Even though it's actually pretty close to Nowra, a decent-sized town, the place has a remote feeling, ideal for getting away from it all for a few weeks to make new work without too much distraction.
The property belonged to Arthur and Yvonne Boyd from the late 1970s and it was gifted to the nation to be used for artist residencies and art education.
We took a tour of the original house (from the late 1860s) which is still occupied at times by family members. The parts of the house accessible to the public display many Arthur Boyd paintings and sculptures as well as work by many members of the Boyd family.
We also saw Arthur's studio, where some of his paintings are displayed, and his old jumper, crusty paint tubes and water jars have all been apparently left as-is since his death in 1999 - yet interestingly we were also told that his son still uses the studio to paint.
The tall thin window/door in the photo below was not an original design feature, apparently it came about out of necessity when a large commissioned painting turned out to be too big to remove from the studio.



Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Find your own way to it

I was a bit surprised when my recent description of a conversation with an experienced basket maker sparked a few comments about how unacceptable it is to discourage someone from experimenting. It honestly hadn't occurred to me to be discouraged! I may have made too much out of what was actually such a brief exchange. I didn't present any concrete idea, just mentioned the vaguest of concepts. It might have been nice if she had taken an interest and drawn me out a little, but I'm not sure I would have had anything to add if she had.

What I took from the exchange was food for thought about the particular challenges you might meet when combining disciplines and/or media, as well as the value of taking time to learn skills (like knowing the rules before you break them).

I have lots of loopy ideas, and often try things that don't work too well, or that I will need to get back to once I figure out a better way. This doesn't bother me too much. (The main problem is what to do with the failed or half-made projects that languish around the house.) I also have ideas or plans - like combining felting and basketry - that I expect to take months or years to go anywhere. I could probably do with a bit less patience at times.

I'm thrilled that so many of you are fans of innovation, experimentation, and breaking boundaries. I'm keen to keep revealing and sharing the results of my ideas (good, bad or indifferent), and I hope you do too.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Worth trying

A couple of months ago I attended a one-day beginner workshop run by the Fibre Basket Makers of the ACT. We made a little mat - which would also have been the base of a basket, if we had time to learn how to turn the corner. I'm quite happy with my mat, flaws and all. It's like a large coaster, and fits perfectly under my small 2-cup tea pot.

The day was fantastic, I'd been wanting to try basket weaving for ages, and now I want to do more. One day. For now I am letting it percolate a bit - I'm not ready to dive headlong into another craft - and for this one, although a lot of the materials are free or cheap, they take some time and expertise to collect and prepare, and a lot of space to store.

I was speaking with one of the original group members about my fledgling interest in basketry, and how I had a few thoughts about finding ways to combine it with my felting work. Her response was cautionary. She said that people often have these ideas for combining different crafts, but tend to find that it is more difficult than it seems.

I've been thinking about this a bit. To come to a course run by expert artisans with years of experience, thinking you could learn a few basic techniques and then be able to throw them in a melting pot with some other craft, and expect to come up with something brilliant and new.... it certainly could be seen as a bit arrogant, or at least naive.

In my defence, even before the course I had no illusions about how quick and easy learning basketry would be. But the broader point is interesting - combining different crafts/arts, or different media, poses special challenges, and you generally need to have some expertise (if not a lot of it) in each area.

All of this is a slightly over-thought introduction to this.
An attempt at felted beaded knitting. I have quite a lot of beads, and had never really tried knitting with beads. So I thought I would try it in a felting project. At first I worried that the heavy washing and agitation would damage the surface of the cheap wooden beads. And then I realised that I liked the idea of them becoming weathered through the felting process.
And they really did change a lot, and I like the effect.
What I really don't like is the way the loops of wool holding the beads didn't shrink into the fabric the way I wanted them to. The weight of the beads has kept them dangling off the side in a really goofy way. It doesn't help that the design isn't great - I just whipped these up to try the idea, but I don't think a single round of big beads looks much good on these pods. I might try again with smaller beads, but I suspect I'll end up concluding it's not worth knitting the beads in; better to just sew them on afterwards. After all, I really love sewing pieces of felt together or sewing beads on - the thread disappears in a very satisfactory way.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Two small shawls

Earlier, I mentioned my plan to knit a To Eyre shawl during my recent trip to the UK. First, I had to find the wool for it, and I wanted something from the UK, not imported. Of course I didn't really need much excuse to visit as many of London's wool/yarn/knitting shops as I could. And it was worth it because they were all quite different to each other.

I Knit in Waterloo was a pleasant space with a moderate range of yarn and a good range of books. It was a seriously rainy day, and there were only one or two customers in and out while I was there. I looked at their wool for a long time, including the 5ply Blacker yarn that I thought might work for the shawl, but then I just bought a couple of sets of Knit Pro harmony needle tips for my collection, cheaper than at home. Lots of things (but not wool, particularly) were a bit cheaper, mainly because the Australian dollar is strong at the moment.

I loved visiting the tiny, cute and utterly charming All the fun of the fair in Soho. This shop has some wonderful things, with really only a small amount of yarn but lots of great knitting and sewing accessories and cute miscellaneous things. It's in Kingly Court, a lovely centre/arcade full of boutiques and crafty/arty businesses just off the disappointingly sterile Carnaby Street.

Loop, in the upmarket market-y Camden Passage, Islington, is two really full floors, with an extensive range of yarns. I believe it was set up to be much like an American-style yarn store.

I also checked out the range in Liberty - all Rowan - and the John Lewis department stores with their interesting range of knitting tools and other haberdashery. I was tempted by an icord maker, and thought I might come back for it but didn't. Never mind, I actually like knitting icord anyway.

The most interesting shop was Prick Your Finger in Bethnal Green, which only stocks UK-milled yarn. It's also a textile/knitting gallery with a bit of a punk/DIY aesthetic. It was great to talk to Louise, who really knows her wool and the sheep that produce it. After much deliberation I finally settled on some beautiful Jamieson Shetland Spindrift for my shawl. I knew it was a bit lightweight (the pattern is written for a 5 ply) but I thought I could make it work, thinking that I wouldn't mind a smaller shawl anyway.

Ha! You see why I cropped my face out of the other pictures, but this one is so hilariously sad I had to show you. I promise I am not actually THIS sad about my shawl. However, it doesn't really stay on without me holding it like that. Also it's not sitting well around my shoulders, is it?
I knit the whole shawl while I was away. It's a great pattern and ideal for travel knitting. (If anyone has looked at the actual pattern, I did version 2, which only comes in one size. There are now four different versions included with the pattern, partly in a quest to replicate what seem to be several different shawls Jane wears in different parts of the film). Before I was halfway through I became concerned about the size, but it still seemed like it should work as a little scarfy shawl. And I suppose it does, if I scrunch it up around my neck a bit, as in the photos below.
The Shetland is a bit scratchy worn this way, and the frill around the edge seems to have disappeared.
As soon as I got home from the UK, and recovered enough from the jet lag to concentrate for an hour or two, I cast on for the Chadwick shawl by Stephen West. This is from West Knits Book 1, which I picked up at Loop. Although it was the man-shawl styling in the book that really drew me in, I didn't have a man who wanted a shawl. I wanted another shawl!
I used some beautiful Knittery handpainted merino cashmere sock wool which I've had for years, combined with greige patonyle. On 3.5 mm needles it made a wonderful drapey, soft fabric.

It's almost unfortunate just how much I love this one, and how easy it is to wear - it seemed to go with all my outfits this week - because it's made it much less likely I will wear the Eyre shawl in its current form. I definitely want to make that one again, but I'm not sure yet if I will unravel it and upsize the pattern for a bigger one in the same wool (I used less than half of what I bought to make it), or whether I will start afresh with another wool - maybe a 5 ply, or even an 8 ply for a bigger, blanket-y, TV watching shawl. I really don't mind the shetland wool not being super soft, it is so light and warm, and I love the way it looks in the garter stitch. I just don't think I'm very likely to wear it all bundled up around my neck.
I thought it was interesting to compare the two, because they are quite similar in size. It's the unusual shaping of the Chadwick that makes it drape around the neck so easily. That's not just the camera angle, it actually is asymmetrical. And it might annoy some people, but I just love the way the ends curl up when I wear it. I also think the design is clever and funky, the contrasting striped and plain sections work really well to show off a nice handpainted yarn. I will enjoy this much more than I ever would have enjoyed socks made from the wool.