Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Knitted Pumpkins for Halloween

The shops are full of Halloween paraphernalia. It's bright , it's cute, it's scary, but it's plastic and tacky!
So in order to rectify that just one eentsy, teentsy, tiny bit, I spent yesterday evening designing a little knitted pumpkin. This is so quick to knit (look, I made two already!) and has a multitude of uses. They can decorate a table, hang in doorways or be tied to trick or treat bags. I think they would look really great sewn or pinned to the back of a pair of gloves. I know I would be especially generous to anyone who knocked at my door Trick or Treating if they were wearing gloves with pumpkins attached! Or why not pin one on a witches hat or a headband. The possibilities are endless.
The pattern uses 10 grams (20 yards) of double knit yarn, and the finished pumpkin measures 3" (7.5cm) across the diameter. If you wanted to make it just that little bit bigger, just use aran/worsted weight yarn instead.
If you want to get the kids involved, let them cut out eyes and mouth from black felt and glue them on rather than embroidering the facial details. These are so simple to make that any new knitter - young, or not-so-young could make them.

I've created a pdf document of the pattern which you can download for free, here so go grab some bright orange yarn and have some spooky fun!



Monday, 22 October 2012

Organic Knitting Yarns



The final post in my series on using organic materials is all about organic and environmentally friendly knitting yarns. It's funny that I've left it till last as using organic yarn was my first venture into eco conscious crafting. That was about 6 years ago when I wanted to knit something for someone expecting her first baby, and I found out that she was trying to create as organic and natural an environment for her new little one as possible.
The only yarns I could find then were Rowan Purelife Cotton. This yarn is not only organic, but it is dyed using natural vegetable dyes. The colours were limited and I now believe this yarn has been discontinued.
Once I started looking for more organic yarns I quickly discovered Twilleys Sincere Organic Cotton.
This is a very reasonably priced yarn that knits to standard double knit tension and is available in a good range of colours. It has been around a good while and has stood the test of time. Although readily available in the UK, I'm not sure if it is available elsewhere.
A couple of years ago two new ranges were introduced to the organic market that really are excellent choices.
First there is Debbie Bliss Eco Baby. This yarn is both organic and FairTrade, which means that the farmers who produce it get a fair price for their commodity. It is also dyed with non toxic dyes and the water used for dyeing is recycled.
 
It sits half way between a 4 ply and a double knit tension, what I believe US knitters call Sports weight. The very nice thing about this yarn is that it is the same tension as Debbie Bliss Baby Cashmerino, so the extensive range of patterns available for that yarn can also be used with this organic one. There are a total of 24 contemporary shades to choose from. What's not to like!
Secondly there are two ranges from Amy Butler. Both by Rowan and called Belle Organic. One range is double knit yarn, the other aran/worsted weight - the colours are identical in both.
This yarn is 50% organic cotton, 50% organic wool, and it is beautiful to work with. It feels ultra soft and so luxurious. The range of colours is not as extensive as the Debbie Bliss range, but still modern and varied. The only possible downside is that it needs to be handwashed, and I some people choose not to use wool for babies incase they are allergic to it.
Having knit with organic cotton yarn and worn organic cotton knitwear, I would never now go back to knitting with traditional cotton. I remember standing with a friend in John Lewis haberdashery department about 18  months ago, helping her choose some yarn for her mother in law to knit some
baby things for her. I picked out a ball of organic cotton and said "feel this" then picked out a traditional produced ball of cotton yarn and said "now feel this". She could instantly feel the difference - feel just how soft that organic ball of yarn was. We soon had quite a few other customers doing exactly the same thing. I should have been on commission from John Lewis that morning - I could have earned a small fortune!
But what about other yarns? Many people don't like knitting with cotton, but they would still like to make environmentally friendly choices.
If you like knitting with wool (and who doesn't?) choose a yarn that is not "superwash". The chemicals that they add to that yarn to make it machine washable are not that good for either the environment or our skin. You may want to choose a yarn comes from sheep that are fairly local to where you live - or at least in the same country. There is no point adding unneccesary air miles and therefore carbon footprint to your yarn, if there is a good choice much closer.
For those of you who live in Britain, you can buy yarns produced in Yorkshire, Somerset and Devon online here and Rowan also produce a good range of organic British sheep breed yarns under their Purelife label.
There are also some recycled yarns available.
Rowan Purelife Revive is made from used garments that are chosen for their silk, cotton and viscose content. These are then carded to make regenerated fibre, which is then spun into a high quality yarn. Recycling at its best! Rowan also has another range called Purelife Renew, which is 93% recycled wool, 7% polyamide.
Last, but certainly not least, you may wish to consider bamboo yarns.
Bamboo grows and speads very quickly, without the need for pesticides, fertilizer or much water.
It matures and can be replanted within seven years. It helps improve soil conditions and prevents soil erosion at the same time. I have read that converting bamboo to fabric is not at all environmentally friendly, but that it is still compares better than conventional cotton production.
For knitters, one major factor to consider is that bamboo yarn stretches! I personally would not consider using a 100% bamboo yarn. I have however been perfectly happy with bamboo/wool blends.
Perhaps the most widely available of these is Sirdar Snuggly Baby Bamboo. There is now also Sirdar Flirt. Both are standard tension double knitting yarns. I have found that they shed slightly - not enough so that you wouldn't want to use it on a baby and not enough that you would notice it when knitting with a light colour, but if you are knitting with navy and wearing a white T shirt, then you know it sheds.
Baby Bamboo comes on a wide cardboard roll. Boy, do I hate those rolls! They bounce around, roll on the floor and generally misbehave as you knit, and then when you get towards the end of the roll, they suddenly unravel all the remaining yarn in an uneven heap! Kids have great fun playing with those sturdy cardboard rolls when you've finished with them though- it's almost worth buying the yarn just for the "toy" in the middle!
Well, if you're still with me, I'm sorry it's been such a long post. It is by no means comprehensive - just a look at the organic yarns I have first hand experience of.
I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject too!
Till next time..... Julie
 
 


Tuesday, 16 October 2012

More Organic Cotton

This is my third post about organic cotton. Perhaps I've persuaded you to give organic cotton a try, but you are mainly a dressmaker, not a quilter - don't worry, there's plenty of  organic fabric available for you too!
One of the best places in the UK to buy organic fabrics (other than quilting cottons)  is Organic Textile Company run by a very friendly couple Phil and Ann Wheeler. In their online store you can buy organic denim, corduroy, jersey, flannel, fleece and thread to sew with as well.
For £3.95 they will send you a sample pack, which I thoroughly recommend. It's only when you feel the fabrics in your hand and see the colours with your own eyes that you can be really sure of what you want.
I particularly like their handloom cotton. This is shirt weight fabric and is made in people's homes from yarn that has already been dyed. It is certified Fairtrade and the weavers make about 3 - 5 metres a day - yes, that's right! all hand woven on a loom. It takes some thinking about, doesn't it.
Many people decide they want to explore using organic fabrics when they are sewing for a new baby. You might wish to read my earlier post on the health problems that traditional cotton can cause.
Cloth nappies (diapers for US readers) can quickly and easily be made from organic terry towelling.
You can either use cotton towelling or bamboo towelling. Bamboo is naturally organic - no chemicals are needed for its production. Bamboo is anti bacterial, a property it is able to retain through many washes. It helps reduce odour - what could be better for nappies! It is also thermo-regulating. That means it keeps  you cool in summer and warm in winter. Bamboo towelling dries quicker than cotton.
In the UK bamboo towelling and blended bamboo/organic cotton towelling can be bought at Ecoearth Fabrics along with other organic fabrics. They have a great range of fabrics to choose from, but I have found delivery to be rather expensive and a little slow.
My next and final post in this organic series will look at organic knitting yarns.
In the meantime, enjoy your knitting and sewing - whatever type of cotton you are using!
 


Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Enjoying Autumn

So, I've decided this BlogtoberFest is not for me. I enjoy blogging, it keeps me focused, but I don't enjoy blogging every day, just for the sake of it. I was beginning to fall out of friends with my blog. It was getting in the way of life (or was life getting in the way of the blog?) so posts will revert to the normal amount from now on.
Autumn days have to be grabbed with both hands when they are dry, and especially if they are sunny.
There are a lot of grey skies, and dark afternoons to endure over the next few months, so I intend to enjoy every moment of autumn whilst I can.
The leaves are just beginning to turn here in Middle England. The trees are still holding most of their leaves, but the veggie growing season has almost ended. I picked sweetcorn this afternoon, and still have a few tomatoes ripening on the vines, but most of the veg plot was dug over this weekend, ready to earn its rest over the winter.
I also have a new quilt I'm working on (you didn't really expect me to finish one before I started the next did you?), but I'm keeping it under wraps for now, and I still have the final post on organic fabrics and yarns to write - I'm keeping that for a rainy day - it will be a good thing to do when the weather keeps me inside.
I hope you are enjoying autumn, if it is autumn (or fall) for you. If it's spring where you live, then lucky you!

Sunday, 7 October 2012

Organic Cotton - Where to Buy


So, you're feeling bad about all the chemicals in your conventional cotton stash and you want to explore the possibilty of using some organic cotton. Where do you start?
If you're a quilt maker you want some nice prints.
To date the manufacturers of organic cotton have concentrated mainly on nursery prints.One of the leading manufacturers of printed organic cotton is Cloud9. They produce the elephant print shown above.
Cloud9 is not only committed to producing organic cotton designs, it ensures thay are printed with low impact dyes.
This is what their website says about the dyeing process:
"Conventional dyeing and printing uses a myriad of toxins, including heavy metals, benzene, formaldehydes and organochloridess. The process requires large quantities of water to wash out the residues, which is then dumped into the local waters of the mills. Cloud9 Fabrics are printed with low impact dyes, which are petroleum based. Although they are made from a synthetic material, they are considered to be more eco-friendly in comparison to natural dyes for many reasons. One of the interesting benefits of using low impact dyes is they have a higher absorption rate, which means less dyestuff is actually required to adhere to fibers which also results in a lighter, softer fabric. Likewise, low impact dyes don't require toxic chemical mordantss to fix the color to the fabrics as do natural dyes. Low impact dyes are often reclaimed from the liquid waste and the water is recyclable. Another added benefit is that they require less heat which saves energy."
Cloud9 regularly bring out new ranges, which are on trend for quilters and sewists alike.
I particularly like the Simpatico range, which has a variety of geometric designs like the one below.
 
Other producers of printed organic cottons include Birch Fabric

 
 Timeless Treasures - wouldn't this treasure map be wonderful for a boy's bedroom!
 Monaluna

Amy Butler

and of course Robert Kaufman produces a great range of solids.

So, where in the UK can you buy these lovely organic fabrics?
The shops I have listed below are, I'm sure not the only ones, they are just the ones I have used so far.
They are in no particular order.
The Village Haberdashery
Backstitch
Eternal Maker
Fabric Rehab
Raystitch
Saints and Pinners (sadly not many anymore)

If you want to buy from the US then probably Fabricworm has the best selection.

Happy fabric hunting :)




Saturday, 6 October 2012

Why Should You Choose Organic Cotton?

Cotton is cotton, right? We choose it for the print, the cheaper it is the more we can buy, so as long as it's 100% cotton that's OK then, isn't it?
Unfortunately, no, it's not OK.. Cotton is not the pure, natural fibre we often think it is.
It is true that cotton, is a natural fibre.It  has been grown for centuries around the world and accounts for half the world’s fibre consumption, but the average “100% cotton” product actually contains only 73% cotton. The remaining 27% consists of chemicals, resins, and binders which are used in the farming and manufacturing of the cotton.
Modern methods of cotton farming can no longer be called natural. The amount of land used to grow cotton hasn’t changed since the 1930s, but yields have been increased 300 percent through hybridization, intensive land management and use of chemical pesticides and fertilizers.
It now takes roughly 150 grams (a third of a pound) of pesticide and fertiliser to grow the cotton for a single T shirt.
Conventionally grown cotton is the third most heavily treated crop in the US behind corn and soy beans. It uses 25% of the world's insecticide and 11% of the world's pesticide.
The US Environmental Protection Agency categorizes seven of the 15 most common pesticides used on cotton in the US as “possible,” “likely,” “probable,” or “known” human carcinogens.
According to the World Health Organization, 20,000 individuals die of cancer or suffer miscarriages each year in developing countries as a result of the chemicals sprayed on conventional cotton. Farm workers around the world are suffering from serious health problems relating to an over exposure to hazardous pesticides, including asthma, neurological damage and cancer.
Chemical toxins are a growing problem, and have replaced bacteria and viruses as the main threat to health, according to Dr. Dick Irwin, a toxicologist at Texas A&M University.
Multiple Chemical Sensitivities (MCS) is a syndrome of medical conditions ranging from mild to life-threatening and include headache, trouble concentrating, memory problems, nausea, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, dizziness, irregular heart beat, and seizures. Usually the symptoms fade between exposures, but some people have the symptoms all the time. MCS symptoms in children include red cheeks and ears, dark circles under the eyes, hyperactivity, and behavior or learning problems.

Researchers have long known that chemical toxins can be stored and accumulated in the fatty tissue and organs such as the liver. MCS is thought to be a result of the chemical “straw that breaks the back” of our body’s natural ability to purify and remove toxins and it causes a temporary or prolonged breakdown in the body’s natural balance.
The discomfort from chemical sensitivities might be triggered by a wide range of causes such as the off-gassing of chemicals from a new carpet or new, fabric-covered office partitions, lawn pesticides, cleaning solvents,laundry detergents, perfumes or clothing grown and manufactured with toxic chemicals. Nothing is closer to our bodies than our clothing and our clothes today are too often chemical toxin storehouses.
As well as directly impacting on out health, the chemicals used in cotton production are an environmental hazard. Pesticides used on conventional cotton crops are well known for seeping into local streams, rivers and even public water supplies.

So now I've made you really concerned about that lovely new quilt you've just made, or the fabric bundles you have been sniffing the new smell of, how is organic cotton different?

Organic Cotton is grown without the use of pesticides, fungicides, herbicides, or genetic engineering. It is certified by an accredited independent organization.
Instead of these toxic chemicals, organic farmers use beneficial insects, crop rotation, compost, and weed by hand  in order to build soil quality, enhance biodiversity and protect the air and water on which we depend.
Genetically modified seed is never used. Crop rotation builds a strong soil, so plants are healthier.Weeds are removed by hoeing rather than with chemicals. Trap crops are used to lure insects away from the cotton. Farmers wait for frosts to defoliate the plants and allow them to harvest the cotton rather than chemical inducements.Much less water is used in the production of organic cotton.
Organic cotton feels softer than conventional cotton, but it has all the qualities and strength of conventional cotton.
It is true that it can sometimes cost a little more, and that print designs and colour choices are more limited. The amount of organic cotton available to the quilter, sewist and knitter has increased enormously over the last few years. More ranges, more colourways and more suppliers are to be found every few months. So , if you see an organic fabric you like - vote with your feet and buy it!
Ask your local quilt shop if they would consider stocking some organic ranges.
It doesn't have to be a case of "all or nothing". Use conventional cotton when you have to. I have been trying to buy organic rather than conventional cotton for the past five years. The conventional purchases still outweigh the organic, but the gap is slowly closing. If we all opt for the organic choice whenever it's a perfectly good fit for the item we want to make, particularly if we are making for babies or children, we will be influencing the trend towards organic, playing our part in helping the environment and helping to minimise the health hazards presented by conventional cotton.

As you can tell from the length of this post, this is a subject I'm pretty passionate about. This is the first of a series of posts on organic cotton.Tomorrow and over the next few days I shall look at the organic choices that are out there, both for quilters and sewists in general, and  I shall review organic yarn choices that are available for knitters.
Have a good weekend, and if you are off to purchase some stash - look at the organic options!!!!!



Friday, 5 October 2012

Quilting for Project Linus

If you've been following my BlogtoberFest posts this week you'll know that i'm making a quilt for Project Linus this month.
It's totally scrappy and most of the fabric has been donated to me. Whilst I've been cutting up the little squares of fabric needed for the quilt I've been thinking a lot about Project Linus, the children who receive the quilts and the co-ordinators who liase with the hospitals or refuges to distribute the quilts.
Project Linus was started in 1995 in the United States with the mission to provide comfort, love and a sense of security to children who are seriously ill, traumatised, or otherwise in need.
The project takes its name from the character in the comic strip Peanuts who was always seen clinging ti his security blanket.
In the UK there are several Regional Centres where donated quilts are collected and distributed to local children in need. I know the quilts received in my area go to Heartlands hospital in Birmingham, a teenage unit in Moseley and Charles House care home among other places.
The quilt I am making is not specifically for a child. It could easily be given to an older child or teenager and would last them into adulthood.
Whilst thinking about the project I coincidentally got an email notification from Amazon this morning advertising a book which is due to be published in a few weeks time which is all about Project Linus.
The book Quilt it With Love has several projects to make and tells some heartwaming stories about the children who have received quilts in the past. The projects are fun and vibrant and would cheer any child. Many have hidden extras like little pockets or double up as a game, but others are simple enough for a beginner to make.
Needless to say, the book is now on my Amazon Wishlist, and I look forward to making a really fun quilt for Linus in the near future.




Thursday, 4 October 2012

Compton Verney

 
No rotary cutting tiny 2 1/2" squares or even decorating for me today. I had a glorious day out with a good friend to Compton Verney in Warwickshire. We were so lucky with the weather and were able to enjoy beautiful autumnal sunshine all day long. Compton Verney is an art gallery housed in what was until relatively recently a derelict historical mansion.The house has been in existance for over 500 years. What we see of it today was designed by a famous Scottish architect, Robert Adam, and the grounds were laid out by Capability Brown.
When we arrived, we happened to notice that there was a guided tour of the grounds about to take place, so we abandoned our plans to browse the gallery and joined the tour instead.

The tour went at a leisurely pace and it was so very pleasant standing in the autumnal sunshine listening to the history of the grounds.
The sun shone on the lake, and we appreciated it all the more knowing that days like this are surely at their end for this year, and that the next time we visit it is likely to be a lot colder and grey skied.
We learned about the restoration of the Ice House, which is in effect a large covered pit . In winter ice would be taken from the lake and stored in the ice house, where it stayed frozen ready for use in the kitchens during the summer before the days of the modern fridge!
The ice house is no longer used to store ice, but looks wonderful with a new thatched roof, and has a new purpose as it has become the home to a few bats.
All in all, it was a lovely day out, a well needed break from the sewing and decorating and a memorable way of saying goodbye to summer


Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Cutting Edge Stuff


You may remember me saying yesterday that I had ordered some navy and turquoise solid Klona for my scrappy Linus quilt. I ordered it yesterday - I'm pretty sure it was lunchtime-ish when I did it, and by 9 o'clock this morning the postie had delivered it! A-Mazing!!

This was from Alice at Backstitch
 She always wraps the order so prettily, and the handwritten message card makes you feel you are opening something really special. So with all the fabric ready and waiting I had no excuse not to start cutting.
By the end of the day (in between spells of painting walls) I had managed to cut 650 of these little b*****s. I cannot face cutting another one toiday!
I did have a quick play to see what the blocks would look like, and managed to get a photo before dusk. There will be two styles of alternating block.
The first block is completely scrappy
The second has turquoise and navy diamond running through it.

Much of the fabric I'm using was given to me by a friend who had received a great deal of fabric from an old lady who had to give up quilting. I have to admit that some of it smells rather musty, After sorting and cutting that for quite a while, it felt really good to cut some of the new navy solid for the damonds.Klona cotton feels a little coarser than Kona, but it handles really nicely, and when it's a charity quilt, economy has to be a factor.
I intend to make the quilt 56"x70". That will be 4 blocks x 5 blocks. There are 49 2 1/2" squares in each block, so I need a total of 980 little squares. So, only another 330 to go then!

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Scrap Attack!

OK, It's Blogtoberfest Day 2 and I've been planning my Linus Scrappy quilt.
I haven't actually made a scrappy quilt before! I've made "thoughtfully random" quilts, but never one with the intention of using up lots and lots of scraps - and I have a lot that need using up, believe me!

So, I Googled scrappy quilts this morning and came across a book called "Cut the Scraps"
I did the "Look Inside" thing, and started to read some extracts. The author starts to talk about how we all save our scraps, but then start to feel guilty about them. She says "Echoes from childhood remind us - Eat everything on the plate, don't let anything go to waste - you paid good money for that, don't throw it away. It's the same thing with our fabric stash. Those voices warn: Don't waste, save the leftovers, you might need that someday, be frugal. But the scrap piles continue to grow. Unused the scraps accumulate in bags and boxes and seem to take on a life of their own."

The "eat everything on the plate" analogy resonated with me - not so much as something I think of myself, but as being exactly what my mother would have said! My scrap guilt is weird, to say the least! I look at my scraps and think to myself - "Just imagine, if I died tomorrow, how awful and embarrasing it would be for my children to have to sort through all those scraps! They just wouldn't understand!" Can you be embarrasssed from the grave?
Anyway, the author went on to say that you should cut your scraps into 3 different sizes ready to use.
I just can't do that! That piece that I just cut up might have been the perfect size for a later project.
I didn't buy the book, but I did enjoy reading the excerpts.
I settled on a Scrap Vomit style quilt similar to the one in Katy from I'm a Ginger Monkey's tutorial here

It uses 2 1/2" squares and as I like using Jelly Rolls, I have a lot of pieces that are already 2 1/2" wide.
I decided this is the moment to break into my Klona Solids bundle that I bought at the Festival of Quilts a few weeks ago, and I chose a navy and a turquoise solid, which I will use in every alternate block to give it some continuity.


I will need more than just a fat quarter of each, so I've ordered some more from Backstitch. I guess that makes it not completely scrappy, but never mind, I'm having fun!
I've sorted and pressed the scraps, and tomorrow I'll find time in between the decorating to start cutting all those little squares.

Monday, 1 October 2012

BlogtoberFest

Wow! It's October already, and time for Blogtoberfest. This is being hosted by Kat at I Saw You Dancing. The idea is that you challenge yourself to write a blog post every day throughout October.

As it says on her blog, the aims are to :
* challenge yourself to blog every day for 31 days
* discover kindred blogging spirits
* carve out a tiny slice of time each day to write and to read
* share any creative projects you have on the go
* host a giveaway, if you feel inclined to spread the love
There are over 200 participants so far!

For me, this will be a very big challenge indeed! I write plenty of blog posts in my head, but not a lot of them materialise in blogland.
Realistically I don't think I'll make the 31, but I'll give it my best shot, and we'll see in a month's time how well I've done.
It's going to be a busy month - I'm in the middle of decorating a bedroom, I have the garden and veg plot to tidy up ready for the winter, I have two new knitting patterns in my head that just need writing up and testing, and a whole load of samples to make for a talk that I'm giving early in November, but Hey Ho, nothing ventured, nothing gained, as they say..

To help me have a focus for these blog posts I'm thinking of making a couple of quilts for Linus - one totally scrappy and one with some simple rotary cut blocks. I think making and sharing my progress  with you on these will actually take less time than me procrastinating over finding something different to write about each day.
I just hope I make it past Day 2 !!
If you want to join in the fun, just sign up here

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