Going Crafting?! Alpaca My Bags!

I’m afraid I’ve been a bit rubbish at writing blog posts lately.  I have been a little distracted as we’ve been going through the process of selling our house and are now trying to buy another one.  Despite this though I have still found a bit of time to sew so I have a few projects that I will hopefully get round to posting about soon!  But first I thought I’d write a post about a workshop I went on a few weeks ago…

A few weeks ago I attended the Fleece Craft Discovery workshop at Charnwood Forest Alpacas with 2 of my work friends, Jen & Johanna.  This was my third crafty workshop of the year so far, which I’m pretty pleased with!  We were very excited about this workshop and, of course, about meeting some alpacas…I’m sure they’ll have heard us coming as soon as we started down the drive as we were squealing at every alpaca in sight!

The Fleece Craft Discovery workshop is a full day workshop starting at 09:45 and running through until 16:00.  The workshop introduces you to the crafts of spinning, needle felting, wet felting, and weaving.

Fiona started the day by talking us through all the various types of natural fibre available from both plants and animals and handing around various samples for us to feel and guess where they came from.  Perhaps the most unusual that I hadn’t come across before was fibre from banana plants!  Apparently it has similar properties to silk, but is obviously produced in a more ethical way.

The first craft we got to try was spinning using a drop spindle.  Fiona gave us all some fibre and then talked us through the steps in stages starting with pre-drafting.  Pre-drafting is the process of thinning down your fibre so you don’t just end up spinning a super chunky yarn.  We split our fibres into 4 strips and then worked along each strip in turn with our hands roughly 4-6 inches apart and gently pulled so each strip became longer and thinner.  Once we’d prepped our fibre Fiona showed us how to get going on the drop spindle.  I struggled to get the hang of it to start with so didn’t think spinning was for me, but towards the end I did feel like I was starting to get it and that perhaps with more practice the penny might drop.  However, I’m not sure I could ever see myself starting completely from scratch and managing to spin enough yarn for me to actually make something…I’m too impatient and just want to get going with the main project!

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Spinning © 2016 Jennifer Richardson

The second craft we tackled was needle felting.  We used cookie cutters to create a needle felted shape and we had enough time to produce 2 items.  I went for a flower and a heart.  I’m looking forward to making use of the cookie cutters I have at home.

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Needle felting © 2016 Jennifer Richardson

We then stopped for a very tasty lunch of bake potatoes with salad, which was included in the workshop fee.  Before we got back to crafting Fiona took us to meet the alpacas!  There looked to be some real characters amongst them and I think they always look like they’re smiling!  We decided we’ll have to go back to do one of the alpaca walks some time.

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Alpacas! © 2016 Jennifer Richardson

After lunch we got going with the third craft of the day, wet felting.  This was the messiest of the 4 crafts and the one we had all be looking forward to trying most.  I did have a go at wet felting years a go back at college, but I couldn’t remember all the steps.  I have recently seen pieces of work people have done where they’ve made a piece of felt and then machine embroidered on top of it and would really like to give this a go.

For this session Fiona showed us how to make a flower and talked us through all the steps starting with layering up the fibres for the background and then adding any detail on top.  We then laid a piece of netting over our design and soaked it with water using a spray bottle before massaging a little bit of washing up liquid into the fibres to get them to fuse together.  After doing this to 1 side, we then flipped the design over and shaped it by folding the edges to the back.  We then put the netting back over the top and repeated the process of rubbing washing up liquid into the fibres.  Once we were happy the fibres were holding together, we removed the netting and sandwiched our design between bubble wrap.  We then used the rolling technique to squeeze water out of the design and in doing so making it shrink and become tougher.  We kept repeating this process, but turning our design in between in order to keep an even shape.  Finally, we rinsed our design off in a bowl of water to remove any remaining soap.  We had enough time to repeat the process to produce a leaf to go with our flower.

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Wet felting © 2016 Jennifer Richardson

The fourth and final craft of the day was weaving using a peg loom.  Fiona produced a big basket full of different yarns from which we could pick from.  This was quite a relaxing way to finish the day.  I incorporated the yarn I spun at the beginning of the day into my design as I thought it would be a good way to use it and it added a bit of variation.

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Weaving © 2016 Jennifer Richardson

At the end of the day we had the opportunity to buy some of the kits to get going at home.  I couldn’t resist buying the needle felting and wet felting kits at £15 each!  So I’m looking forward to getting stuck into those!

We had such a fun day on the workshop.  The course was really well structured giving us plenty of time to try each craft and produce something to take home.  Fiona was a great instructor who is very friendly, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about wool crafts.  All materials were included in the workshop fee as well as lunch so you don’t have to take anything along.  I would highly recommend this workshop to anyone wanting to have a go at spinning, needle felting, wet felting, and weaving.  Fiona said that they are planning to run more workshops focusing on the individual crafts so hopefully I’ll get to go on one of them sometime.

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Great Pottery Throw Down Workshop

I am a big fan of The Great British Bake Off and The Great British Sewing Bee, but when The Great Pottery Throw Down aired on the BBC back in November I wasn’t convinced it could possibly be as good!  However, I thought I would at least give it a chance and watch the first episode.  Well, I was hooked and not only that, my husband Steve enjoyed it too AND all our friends at work!  So the day after each episode had aired we’d have a discussion about it at lunch and talk about how we’d all really like to give pottery ago.

Well 2 weeks ago a group of us got to do just that when our friend Wayne organised a 2 hour throwing workshop at Hands on Pottery in Nottingham for our friend Claire’s birthday.  Of course in advance of the workshop we all talked about what we might like to try and make.  Trying not to be too ambitious I thought something like a simple yarn bowl would surely not be that hard…I was very wrong!

To start off we were all given a chunk of clay and shown how to wedge it in order to remove any air bubbles.  This basically involved repeatedly throwing the clay down hard on to a table, rotating it each time.  It is a great stress-buster!

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© 2016 Jennifer Richardson

After wedging our clay, we cut the clay in half with a wire to check there weren’t any remaining air bubbles, and then cut the 2 halves in half again to give us 4 pieces of clay, which we then rolled into balls.  These 4 balls of clay basically meant we had 4 chances of creating something on the wheel.

Before being set loose on the wheels we were given a demonstration on how to centre the clay, open it, and thin and raise the walls before shaping the clay into something…our instructor made this all look very simple!

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© 2016 Jennifer Richardson

So then it was our turn.  I ended up on the easy wheel as it was the only one without a foot pedal, the speed instead being controlled by a knob on the side meaning you could just focus on what your hands were doing and not have to worry about your foot.  However, I don’t think it really helped me much!  Turns out throwing a pot is really quite hard!  By the end of the session though I felt like I was starting to get a feel for centring the clay as on my last attempt I managed to do this without help and was really quite pleased with myself.  But where I really seemed to struggle was in thinning and raising the walls.  I just couldn’t seem to get a feel for this and every time I started to get somewhere I would start to lose it.  The first time this happened the instructor turned around and said ‘Oh look, you’ve created a jug!’  So I left it at that!  It is pretty abstract (its on the left in the photo below), but I was pleased to at least have something that could be fired!  And then the next time I was getting somewhere the same thing happened again!  So it would seem I’m good at accidentally creating abstract jugs!

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© 2016 Jennifer Richardson

The workshop went superfast and 2 hours just isn’t enough to really get to grips with working on the wheel.  However, it gave us a good taster and I think there will be a few of us that may look at booking onto a longer course as a result.  I feel that with a little more time I would start to get the feel of things.  If you have thought about giving pottery ago I would thoroughly recommend doing a workshop.  We all found it great fun!

Free Machine Embroidery Workshop

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Back in November two of my crafting friends and I booked on to the free machine embroidery workshop at The Craft Studio in Nottingham for February to give ourselves something to look forward to post Christmas.  At the time it felt like it was ages away, but a couple of weeks ago we finally got to go on it!

I first used free machine embroidery on my fashion textiles course back at college years ago to stitch things like trees and leaves and have also free machine embroidered the odd gift card.  Most recently I have free machine embroidered on top of some custom printed map fabric, which I wrote about here.   But I had never really incorporated different bits of fabrics into a design to create more of a picture or scene.  So this was what I was hoping to gain some tips for doing and despite not being completely new to free machine embroidery I still learnt plenty of new tips from Clare at The Craft Studio that I will certainly be putting into practice to do more free machine embroidery in the future.  I always used to blame my old machine having a side loading bobbin for the cause of jamming and getting the bird’s nest of thread, but it would seem this was not always necessarily the culprit!

With just 7 people in the class there was a nice, friendly atmosphere.  Clare’s instruction was always clear and informative.  Clare started us off just doing some simple doodling on to a piece of calico in order to get everyone used to moving the fabric around.  We were supposed to just practice going in circles, but I got carried away and started drawing a kite!

Next we moved on to tracing shapes and drew 4 shapes (a square, a circle, a heart, & a triangle) onto a piece of calico with a pencil and then attempted to follow the outlines on the machine.

We then moved on to more complex shapes and tried drawing the outline of a bird and a flower before taking the same shapes and looking at how to applique fabric into the design.

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© 2016 Jennifer Richardson

After we had worked through these tasks to gain some confidence we were able to start on our own project of our choosing.  I had done quite a bit of looking on Pinterest for inspiration so had found a few ideas, but one of my favourites was a picture of a robin someone had done using different bits of fabric and outlined in a sketchy way with the stitching.  So I decided I wanted to attempt to do a similar robin and liked the idea of sitting him on top of a spade handle.  After rummaging through Clare’s scrap fabric bags to find some suitable bits of fabric for my robin I set about drawing out my design and cutting everything out.  I attached my design to a calico tote bag and I was pretty pleased with the result.  I must have been concentrating so hard trying to ensure I finished my design before I left that I was completely wiped out by the time I got home!

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© 2016 Jennifer Richardson

At the end of the workshop we were able to look around The Craft Studio shop and we all stocked up on supplies to get us set up with free machine embroidery at home.  We had such a fun day and I would highly recommend doing a workshop at The Craft Studio if you get the chance.

Last week I put my new skills into practice to make this Mother’s Day card for my Mum, which she loved!

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© 2016 Jennifer Richardson

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