The Flax Mill

It’s been a while since I’ve posted. It turns out that your third (and final) year of nursing school keeps you pretty busy! (And that’s not considering all the other life stuff and responsibilities: kids, art exhibitions, volunteering, etc.) So apologies for the radio silence, but I have some cool things coming up so I promise to try and keep on top of things better!

Anyway, back in December, a friend and I took a trip out to Dungiven to visit Flax Mill Textiles run by Hermann and Marion Glaser-Baur. It’s a bit of a drive from Belfast but well worth it!

Originally a corn mill, the Flax Mill has been operating for over 200 years, although Hermann and Marion bought it and converted it to a weaving mill in 1988. Passionate about this old art form, they’ve been producing stunning linen weaves ever since. Although the couple are originally from Germany, both came to love this old Irish industry and dedicated their lives to reproducing it and keeping it alive.

They’ve tried hard to keep the buildings in as much of the original condition as possible, and they’ve accrued quite a collection of woven fabric samples from a variety of linen mills across Ireland and the UK. It’s a treasure trove of textile history in a setting that really takes you back to the 1800s.

The Flax Mill is also home to the annual Yardfest celebrations, which brings together a variety of fashion, artistry and music. And wherever you wander, you can find all sorts of interesting little nooks and crannies.

One of the most fascinating parts of the Flax Mill is seeing where all the magic happens! Marion and Hermann spend hours of almost every day weaving metres of delicious linen and wool fabrics. They work extremely hard to create fabrics to order, and their skills show in their products.

Hermann and Marion were so generous with their time and showed us so much of their living and working spaces. It was so kind of them and I can’t wait to have another visit! And if you fancy dropping by, Yardfest is happening this September. You can get in touch with Hermann and Marion via their website.

Hope you enjoyed this brief glimpse into the world of an Irish weaver!

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A Note on Visibility

This post has been a long time coming, but what’s that saying? Start as you mean to go on? Well here’s the thing: I’ve always been a believer in change. I might struggle with it, as almost everyone does, but I think change is good. I’ve always been the type to shy away from confrontation, to “let things go” because it was more important to “keep the peace” than to disrupt the social status quo. That maybe what I had to say was never as important or as worthy as the next person, so what was the point? But as the sun sets on 2018, there are a few things I’d like to say.

Politically, a lot of things have gone down (y’all know what I mean) and that seems to have given people the impression that it’s ok to be close-minded, it’s ok to give up on trying to understand each other, to give up on being compassionate and kind. It feels like people are taking sides and there is no longer any in between. But what if you have always been, by definition, in between?

There was a comment posted on Twitter a while ago by someone I usually admire, but the comment gave me pause. Without trying to give too much away, the gist was that this person blamed another for “stealing” elements of an identity that they claimed to own. I mean, what?! What made it worse was that most people seemed to agree with the commenter, because in the past they have been quite vocal about LGBTQ+ rights and the notion of visibility. Of awareness and acceptance. But if I understood what was being said, then it really shocked me. Made me angry. So angry that I *almost* commented back. And for those introverts out there, you’ll know how big a step that is. The more I dissected the whole thing, the more I came to the conclusion that someone was having a bit of a tantrum and throwing their toys out of the pram over the very thing they said they promoted: the visibility and acceptance of all people, no matter their persuasion.

My anger wasn’t just caused by a public moment of jealous selfishness, but it hit home and poked at the building frustration I’d been feeling these last couple of years. As conservatism grows more popular, a lot of my friends have grown more vehemently liberal (thankfully). Having not gotten caught up in a lot of the trappings that go along with fashionable statements that advertise my identity, I guess you could say my style is definitely “whatever goes”. I certainly won’t be accused of stealing anyone’s fashion identity anytime soon, and aside from the multiple items of clothing I own with cats on them, there’s probably very little for people to make assumptions on. Maybe that’s a good thing, but it’s left me feeling, well, invisible.

Back in June, actress Stephanie Beatriz wrote an article for GQ about being bisexual and her upcoming wedding – to a man. I wasn’t even aware of who she was, but she became my hero in that moment. She summed up my feelings perfectly: the invisibility of being caught between the seemingly more dramatic stories of coming out as gay or trans, of people assuming you’re just “going through a phase”, of thinking you’re more likely to cheat because you’re attracted to both, of having to repeatedly come out to people because it may not be as obvious to others that you swing both ways, of not being straight enough for straight people or gay enough for gay people (possibly the most frustrating!), of going to the trouble of coming out to your family and friends and then trying to explain your relationship to someone of the opposite sex, as if it was any of their fucking business to begin with, of trying to justify how you can be bi and yet be married to a man (like in my case, because if you married a man, you MUST be straight, right? Like if I married a woman, would I instantly turn gay? COME ON, PEOPLE.) I wasn’t aware I had to justify anything to anyone, but it turns out if I want my identity to be taken seriously, if I want people to know who I am, if I want to legitimise my place in the fight for equal rights, acceptance, and justice, then I guess I have to display my colours more openly. So here ya go.

Consider yourselves warned. And now that I’ve done that, I’d like to make a point about that Twitter comment: I don’t think anyone, gay or straight or otherwise, has the right to comment on another person’s dress sense and make assumptions about their identity, much less criticise them for it. I feel that if you want to change the world, you have to represent the changes you want to see happen. Or, barring that, just go back to what we all learned in kindergarten: if you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.

Hope you all have a happy and healthy 2019!

Dancing With (Crochet) Stars

Recently our craft group decided to go out for an afternoon tea to get ourselves into the Christmas spirit. Someone (not me!) had the bright idea of also doing a small swap of a handmade gift. Since I didn’t know the name I would draw on the day, I decided to make something festive but not too over-the-top, in case my giftee wasn’t into big decorative gestures. 

I settled on a bunting of crocheted stars made with scraps of Shetland wool. (Great stashbuster!) The benefit of using Jamieson & Smith colours is that they all look great together, so I chose a selection of about 8 colours to work with and just rotated them as I fancied.

At first I had planned to follow Ruby and Custard’s crochet star  pattern, but I quickly decided to modify it because I can’t follow instructions apparently.  I’m pretty happy with the result, so here are my modifications. The original pattern can also be found for free by clicking the link above. 

Crochet Star Pattern, modified

This pattern uses US crochet terminology.

Start with a magic ring. 

R1: Ch 3, make 9dc into the ring. (10 sts)

R2: Join new colour. Ch 3, dc into the same st, 2dc into each following st. (20 sts)

R3: join new colour. This round is worked over a 4 st repeat:

(sc, hdc) in 1st st.

(dc, trb, ch 2) in 2nd st.

(trb, dc) in 3rd st.

(hdc, sc) in 4th st.

Repeat a total of 5 times to create the 5 points of the star.

To make the bunting, I chained 12 sts into a loop and sl st into the first ch., then I chained 15 in between each star. I caught and joined the point of each star with a sl st. When they were all joined, I ch 15, then chained another 12 to make the loop at the finishing end. The loops allow the bunting to be easily hung up wherever it may bring you joy. 😊💖⭐️

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Tag me with your makes! I’m on Instagram as @a_million_paper_stars. 😃 Happy crafting!

 

Abbreviations:

ch: chain

dc: double crochet

hdc: half double crochet

sc: single crochet

sl st: slip stitch

st(s): stitch(es)

trb: treble crochet

 

Meanwhile, Somewhere in Antrim…

Today I had the pleasure of accompanying my friend Emma from Top Floor Art to the Spinning Yarns Festival at Antrim Castle. This was the first year the festival has taken place, and there has been much chatter about it in the various crafting circles that I frequent. Overall, everyone was pretty excited that Northern Ireland was going to see another celebration of craft – particularly yarn! – following the successful second annual Yarnfolk Festival in Whitehead in August.

 

So along we went, and when we arrived, we were stunned by the beauty of the grounds. Seriously, the gardens are amazing. But more on that later. First we had a snoop round the tents. There were the usual suspects: a tea & scones tent, a marketplace, several stalls offering yarn, craft-related notions, tweed fabric, workshops, demos, or information about any and all of the above, plus more. The Ulster Guild of Spinners, Weavers and Dyers were there, as was Yarn with Joanne and Wee Yarn Designs. There was also an area to sit and have lunch, a snack, or just chill and listen to the live music. And there were two amazing exhibitions on offer by the aforementioned Emma Whitehead and another amazing artist, René Mullin. Unfortunately I didn’t get any photos of the exhibitions.

 

Who knew there was a Northern Ireland Alpaca Group? Not me!

 

Work that angle, boys!

We were having a great time, toodling around the place and hanging around like a bad smell outside the venue where Angeline Murphy (yeah, THAT Angeline Murphy!) was giving a talk on her time on the Great British Sewing Bee when we were approached by a fella asking if we’d like a tour of the castle gardens. Um, hell yeah! We figured it would be kinda cool, we’d learn a few facts and it would kill some time before we could justify having another cuppa.

This was no ordinary tour. This was AMAZING. The incredibly patient and knowledgeable Andrew McCloskey delivered in spades. And then some. This tour had biology, genealogy, history, war, drama, fires, potential murders (ok that’s a stretch, but there were some tragic deaths!), as well as a lively discussion about climate change and a commentary on humans’ impact on nature and the environment. And we learned a little about the castle too.

Completed in 1662, Hugh Clotworthy lived there with his wife until his death in 1630. The couple had a thing for wolfhounds, and felt that they were the unspoken ‘protectors’ of the castle and its inhabitants, so as a kind of a thank you, Hugh had a sculpture built:

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He was kind of embarrassed by it because statue commissions at the time were usually religious in nature, so it sort of hid in the shadows until it appeared on the facade of the castle, where it cracked in several places before being moved elsewhere and then eventually erected here. I don’t know the dates of all this exactly, I was distracted by ice cream. But I did learn that Wolfhounds are extinct and that the modern Irish Wolfhound that you see has been ‘recreated’ through careful breeding.

 

The gardens themselves were pretty incredible. Surrounded by a 300-year-old lime hedge, the sculpted gardens are an Anglo-Dutch depiction based on Castle Coole’s gardens, for which the original sketches can be traced. But that was what was in fashion at the time. Man’s victory over nature! Grrr. And all that. We also looked in detail at the Irish Yew and its radiating, spiraling leaf formation, and giggled at the 3rd or 4th Viscount’s wee joke when building the canal: two paths run in parallel along the sides of the canal,  but one side incorporates a hidden detour. These paths were used for races: the Viscount on one side and his guests on the other. You can guess which side he was always on – I’m sure he was a gracious winner!

 

We also saw a selection of crests that had been carved over the years. The diamond-shaped crest was created especially for an heiress who inherited the lands – yay girl power! The original castle was destroyed by a fire in October 1922, but its footprint has been laid out in flagstones and is marked by an arch on the far side (modelled here by Emma, along with a stunning picture of the castle taken through the archway by Andrew McCloskey – thanks Andrew!).

 

The rest of the gardens in this part of the grounds hail from the Victorian era, and highlight the natural beauty of the foliage and trees. There is also an impressive collection of monkey puzzle trees, but watch out for falling coconuts. This is also the part of the gardens that contains the pump house: two men pumping solidly for 3 – 4 hours could produce a generous quantity of pressurised water taps in the castle, and who doesn’t want pressurised water? However, on the fateful night of 26 October 1922, the taps and the pump were found to be empty when a fire broke out. Coincidence? You decide! The only casualty was young Ethel, who is said to haunt the grounds from time to time. I don’t blame her to be honest.

 

We also spotted where Algernon (12th Viscount) died by hitting his head on the wall near where he was gardening. His body resides in the graveyard that’s the only part of land owned by the current 14th Viscount of the Castle (who lives in England).

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Emma pointing out where Algernon donked himself.

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A commentary on modern Castle life and the materialism of today.

 

On our way back to the festival we spotted these gargoyles, and Andrew enlightened us with a funny architects’ joke. The fella on the left is blind, and is married to your woman on the right, who isn’t winning any beauty contests anytime soon. But a mate tells him he’s married the most beautiful woman in the land, and he prays that he might regain his sight. He does, is bitterly disappointed, and then wishes to be blinded again. On behalf of unflattering women everywhere, I’d kind of like to punch him in the nuts, but it wouldn’t be nice to hit a blind fella who was that vain I guess. Plus he’s a gargoyle, and aside from not having any nuts to punch, I’d probably break my hand. We also spotted some spectacular yarn bombing! For some reason only one of the pictures I took of the yarn bombing turned out.

Finally, we headed into the craft tent manned by the lovely Madeline McGreevy of Kathleen’s Attic and her crew. We had a go at making a wee flock of sheep…they were addictive, ok?!?

 

All in all, it was a brilliant day out. I’d highly recommend checking it out next year, and in the meantime, go have a look at the Castle. The council has spent millions renovating it, and I have to say, they’ve done a brilliant job. Until next time…

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Have Yarn, Will Travel

I haven’t posted in forever, and for that I apologise. Things in my house are ca-RAZY right now, for lots of good reasons! (More on that in another post, perhaps!) Anyway, our family is recently back from the California Bay Area, where I grew up, and I thought I’d take this opportunity to gush about some of my favourite local yarn stores there. I didn’t get to all of them, sadly, BUT there’s always next time!

First up (in no particular order) is Knit This, Purl That, in Pleasanton. The owner, Sandy, is really nice and loves to chat about yarn and patterns (a good quality to have, eh??). I’ve taken part in her yarn clubs previously and they’re good fun! I didn’t get much, but this skein just spoke to me. It’s Mrs Crosby Loves to Play in Hummingbird. *swoon*

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One of my other favourite haunts is A Yarn Less Raveled, in Danville.  I’ve spent many happy minutes here fondling some lovely skeins from indie dyers as well as commercial yarns. I got an amazing gradient – from Freia Handpaints – and two skeins of Madelinetosh BFL. ❤ (I’m thinking of making All Shades of Truth with these!) I also got a fabulous pattern book, The Knitter’s Curiosity Cabinet Volume II by Hunter Hammersen. Can’t WAIT to try some of those patterns!

 

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Also spotted while there was this colour combo – delicious!

And of course I passed some eye-searing neon in Walmart…it was hard to resist, because it would make some awesome toys for the kids, but I resisted because I have plenty of scraps I can use.

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Lastly, I went to A Verb For Keeping Warm in Oakland, owned and run by Kristine Vejar (and helped by her partner and my old college buddy, Adrienne Rodríguez). This place is AMAZING. Think TEXTILE HEAVEN. It sells fabric, yarn, embroidery supplies, fibre, etc. They run classes on indigo dyeing, knitting, sewing, crochet, and natural dyeing. It’s a veritable mecca for yarny aficionados!

Some of their milled yarn from California sheep (!!), Flock, is shown above. They also were the only shop I spotted that sold handspun (below). *drool*

I ended up with three skeins of Lichen and Lace , a gorgeous singles yarn (colourways, from left to right: Day Lily, Citron, and Baby Eggplant).

I can’t wait to knit these up and see what they’ll become. Is there a better souvenir than new yarn? 🙂

WWKIPD, 2017: K10tog!

We were sitting in Starbucks on a cold Wednesday afternoon, as usual. Nikki said, ‘What are we going to do about our anniversary this year?’

In a group of crafters, we all knew she wasn’t talking about her wedding anniversary. She was talking about the anniversary of the year Belfast Stitch n Bitch was formed. It was our big ten. There were mumbles and shifting glances around the table. No one really had any spectacular ideas. Although in retrospect, I think they were probably just afraid to voice any ideas lest they be put in charge of executing them. But anyway.

‘Well, I did have one idea,’ she said. Everyone perked up. ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if we published a pattern book?’

Suddenly there was lots of chatter. People had ideas and were full of enthusiasm. A few of us already had patterns in the works that we were testing. That was it! A pattern book full of patterns written by us: ‘amateur’ crafters with very little pattern writing experience, and yet we were confident it would be great. We discussed the logistics, and came to a few hard conclusions: we could only manage a small number of patterns to start with. They all had to be tested and we wanted the book printed in time for WWKIPD in June. It was almost December. There wasn’t much time, because I knew the patterns would then have to be edited, proofread, spell-checked, and photographs taken of the finished products. We were also funding this amongst ourselves, which meant a tight budget. Because I had a little publishing experience already (albeit in academia), these tasks fell to me, and I became the person to Make It Happen.

[This is the montage part, where you see me toiling away on a laptop surrounded by kids and cats, swearing up a storm as Word shifts my formatting, auto-correct changes my spellings to the American, and photographs refuse to slot seamlessly into the text. And also editing, editing, editing, and editing some more. During this process I also started nursing school, finished tweaking my own contribution to the book, and survived a nearly 3-week hospital stay with my 19-month-old when he came down with a particularly nasty case of pneumonia and pleural effusion. Then there was the back-and-forth process of contacting a printer, negotiating a price, sending in drafts, proofreading proofs, making changes, sending them back, taking photographs, arranging delivery of books and payments, arranging launch dates, fundraisers, marketing and sponsors. So it was stressful, to say the least.]

And then suddenly it was June, and the books were being delivered. Our launch day had been confirmed as 10 June, World Wide Knit in Public Day, and Nikki had come up with some really cool ideas for tote bags with our design printed on the front, and some finishing touches for presentation. She also secured a load of raffle prizes to help offset some of the costs we incurred. She made lemon drizzle cakes, I made brownies, Sharon made Greek dip and we gathered in the Dock Cafe in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter to celebrate the launch of our first collaborative pattern book, fittingly titled Knit 10 Together.

So! What can you find in the book? You can find four knitting patterns and two crochet patterns, and there are a range of skill levels and techniques: from beading and cabling to fair isle and toy-making. Here’s a sneak peek:

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Whew. So WWKIP Day is over for another year. But this time, we have something more tangible than just memories to keep. We’re pretty happy with how it turned out, too. Ten years of community crafting at its best.

Here’s to another happy decade. ❤

If you’re interested in purchasing a copy of our book, or would like to know more about it, please email us at craftingrabbithole@gmail.com.

Cute & Quick

These two words – cute & quick – sum up just about everything I hope for when I’m making something, because you never know when the baby will wake up, or someone will need a snack, or an argument will need refereeing. I rarely get my wish, since crafting takes time and patience (and often some peace and quiet too!), but these little trousers are the perfect fit. Excuse the pun. Ahem.

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Anyway, as I was saying. I’ve made several pairs now, mostly out of second hand stuff, so it’s a great project for upcycling too! Things I’ve used include an old maternity dress that I made that no longer fits, a shirt from a charity shop with cool colours, another old dress that I never wore anymore. But you could make these from new fabric too, obviously! I used jersey knit for all of these, since it’s comfy, doesn’t fray, and looks so cute!

First, I drafted a paper pattern from a pair of my son’s jeans. I used a size that fit well on him, with a little bit of wiggle room. I lay them flat and drew around their shape. Then I added a half inch seam allowance to my tracing, with two inches added at the waist and cuffs.

 

Then, using my paper pattern, I cut out my fabric times two (you’ll want a front and a back). Next, with right sides together, sew up those side seams, and then the inside seams, using a half inch seam allowance. Lastly, create a channel for the waistband (I turn the edge down 1/4″, then again another 1.25″. Sew it shut, leaving an opening to thread through some 1″ elastic. Then hem your cuffs to the desired length and you’re done!

How quick and easy is that? Not to mention cute….though I may be biased. 😉

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10 Years

Last week it was my husband’s and my ten year anniversary. He surprised me by booking us a trip out to Enniskillen. Having not spent much time there, I was delighted. A chance to explore! And explore we did.

We checked out a lot of the ruins in the area, and drove or hiked around many of the forest parks, including Lough Navar Forest, Castle Caldwell, Castle Archdale, Castle Monea, the Marble Arch Caves Global Geopark and the Drumskinny Stone Circle. The trees seemed to be putting on a show just for us; it was almost impossible to capture the incredible colours of the changing leaves.

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Mushrooms at Castle Archdale

To finish up our trip, he had gotten us tickets to see the live video broadcast of the Anastasia ballet in London. It was incredible. The lead, danced by Natalia Osipova, was just breath taking. The story opens with scenes from the life of the young Anastasia Romanov, before the revolution, when her family enjoyed comfort and opulence. Presumably, these are the memories of Anna Anderson, a woman fished out of the river in Berlin after attempting suicide. At first, she suffers from amnesia and cannot recall who she is, but as her memories return, she believes herself to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia. (It was confirmed in 1994 that in fact she was not, but at the time the ballet was written, this was not known.) The first two acts serve as a prequel, and are largely the domain of Anna’s memories. They are set to Tchaikovsky’s First and Third Symphonies. Osipova captured both innocence and youth beautifully, and the tricky pas de deux in the second act between the ballerina (and the tsar’s mistress) Mathilde Kschessinska and her partner seemed flawless. The third act, set at the moment when Anna is beginning to ‘remember’, is danced to Martinu’s Fantaisies Symphoniques, and is chilling. It conveys the utter despair that Anna Anderson must have felt, searching for her true identity, and sends goose bumps up your arms at both the beauty of the dancing and sheer agony she feels from her memories and from her uncertainty at who she really is.

And what did I get him? I got him a keychain inscribed with the same phrase as on our wedding rings, ‘a deal is a deal’, along with the date and our initials. I also made him a painting that encapsulates some highlights of our last 17 years (total) together:

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So here’s to another couple of decades!

For more info on what to do in and around Enniskillen, click here.