Earlier this autumn, my daughter and her husband arrived with a huge bag of fabric samples. They had been thrown out of a London college because they were out-of-date – but they were definitely far too good to waste!These were the sort of fabrics I’ve never worked with before – fabulous textured silks and satins …Extraodinary materials …Glitter to die for!And imaginative prints that I just loved – what I would give for a dress of that beautiful shimmery seahorse print!The thing is that most of these fabric samples were small – some very small indeed. Very tricky to know what I could do with such small pieces, but by chance I’d recently read a blogpost by Ann Wood on making little star folk and stars were on my mind …It seemed to me that these small glittery pieces of fabric would lend themselves so well to making those little starry folk …I got carried away. I made quite a few – and some were different ….Some were pink …And there was even a cat star – yes, with genuine cat whiskers (no cats were harmed in this, I assure you – our cats considerately moult whiskers every now and then).Then it occured to me that I might be able to make beaded stars just as I had made beaded paisley botehs last Christmas. (I learned to make paisley botehs from the very talented Lorna of Chookiebirdie and wrote about my lesson in an earlier blogpost). So I set myself up in my woolly room with a tray of beads and some star templates (developed from Ann Wood’s original pattern) and these gorgeous little scraps of fabric …Tricky stitching …But the result was very pleasing …And I found it sort of addictive …As I stitched my way through November and early December, my bowls of stitched stars changed as stars went out to homes throughout the country, around the world … new stars were made, I got excited by different colours combinations … so much variety, so much potential …Still loads and loads of gorgeous fabrics sitting unused in my woolly room …I just had to make some GiveWraps … (These are handmade reusable present wrappers – you can find out much more about them in another of my old blogposts). Here I am working in one of my cousin Polly’s dragon prints into an orangey GiveWrap.The finished item here … the orange counterbalanced by some fabulously dark colours and very strong prints …Another orange one, but this one with soft blue-grey tones …Now for some black and brights … I loved working all these strong colours and patterns in together …And by complete contrast, here is a GiveWrap that is almost completely neutral tones … (featuring some fantastic Alexander Henry cats around the border and in the centre the Ghastlies around the dinner table).What a contrast this almost completely scarlet GiveWrap is! What a treat to work these strong patterns all in together …And of course for my mother (who only acknowledges the colour blue), a china-blue, gold and white GiveWrap …I have had such pleasure in all this making, but the icing on the cake (or far more accurately the hanging on the tree) is to see the stars and GiveWraps in their new homes …Dear blog readers, I would that I could send starry folk out to you one and all but I will have to make do with sending you stellar wishes for Christmas and the New Year! The world is full of such difficulties these days, so above all else, I wish that you may be richly blessing this coming New Year – and that it be an easier year for so very many of us …
Part of the fun of Christmas for me is the making of both gifts and Christmassy stuff. It’s an excuse to make all sorts of things. In the lead up to December, we were busy with lots of such projects, but because they were presents, I haven’t said much about them. Now – with Christmas well behind us – this is the opportunity to show what we were busy with in those autumn months.
I started my GiveWrap making in September with lots of fabrics spread around, and some very intriguing printed pieces from my cousin Polly. When I’m working with Polly’s prints, I sort them first into colours, and themes. These two predominantly blue GiveWraps mainly incorporate a mix of her human body prints. Her images are bold so I try to marry them up with fabric that has equally strong images – thus, in the top example, there are striking Japanese ladies from an old yukata, and some wonderful owly pieces too. The images in the lower givewrap are softer in colour and tone, and have accompanying softer fabrics.Other prints from Polly inspired work in different colourways. Her “little people” are all facing inwards here, dancing to the central tune, in a golden melange. It’s a particular favourite of both of us.This wine-coloured GiveWrap is at heart a worn-out cushion cover of Polly’s. I covered up the holes with bits of new fabric, and built up the edges.Later in the autumn, I made more GiveWraps. These blues, yellows and golds worked so well together that I got carried away and made two more similar GiveWraps.Another old cushion cover (this time an old green one of mine) got re-pieced here. The holes and stains were removed and I added some strong contrasting purple. Interestingly, this GiveWrap attracted more interest and likes on Instagram than any other that I have made.Lastly, I made a small red silk GiveWrap with my mother in mind. This to my mind is the best of the lot! I loved it – was sad to part with it – but my mother loved it too. And when a recipient loves the gift that is best of best!Off they went to new happy homes, bearing Christmas wishes and love!Apart from GiveWraps, there were practical things to make like the Christmas cake – here garlanded with our own gorgeous glossy holly.We also made jams and jellies. Here’s Stephen concentrating intensely as he pots up his chilli pepper jam.The finished products – chilli pepper jam and spicy harvest jelly – don’t look bad for Christmas presents, do they?I made two little Toft monsters this year as gifts. The patterns come from Kerry Lord’s brilliant flip book of patterns, Imaginarium. A mix-and-match pattern book to enable the crochet creation of just the monster you want. The other little monster I made is quite different – but that’s the whole point of a book with so many pattern choices!Different they may be, but they look like good friends, sitting here together.You may have read an earlier blog I wrote this autumn about our Seaview poppies … we collected as much seed as possible, and packaged it up to send off to friends and family, hoping to spread a little bit of poppy colour in other gardens.I made hats too. Some I forgot to photograph. But one I did remember to photograph was this pink two-eared beanie for my daughter. The pattern came from my beloved ancient (1977) Paton’s Woolcraft, and I knitted it using odd pink scraps from my stash. The scraps included some Rowan Kidsilk Haze so together with the alpaca pompoms, it was a fluffy hat!Just right for our beach walks …My son is fascinated (and most knowledgeable about) the periodic table. So what better to give him than periodic table pillowcases?! Stephen found the fabric on the internet, and I sewed them up. Does he now dream of the elements of the periodic table? …. I must ask him …There was the usual making as well. You might say, the bread and butter making. Wonderful to have a man around who makes all our bread.Stephen made some wonderful knits for Christmas presents. He wrote in an earlier blog about the blanket he knitted on his knitting machine as a present for his youngest daughter. That knit incorporated a knitted monogram of his daughter and her husband’s first initials: J and E. My cousin admired it especially because her two daughters share those particular initials. So how about some cushions with your daughters’ initials on them as a Christmas present for my cousin! Here is the maker man himself with his wonderful knitted cushions.He made two scarves for other daughters.
Stephen here: Here is one of the scarves I knitted about to be cast off the machine. For the technically mind it is knitted in 2-colour tuck stitch using every third needle with tension dial set at 10 (the largest possible stitch size) to give a lovely loose feel. The wool is Rowan baby merino silk double knit – in all I needed 100g of each colour. When washed carefully they came out beautifully soft, though somewhat narrower and longer than anticipated.
I also experimented with some Christmas designs. Here are two panels I knitted just for fun. The left hand one is of random snowflakes ( see the end of our blog Ellie’s Blanket for more details of this design) and the second is derived from typical Scandinavian Christmas designs and made using their traditional colours.Perhaps by next year I will have my own machine-knitted supply of Givewraps.
Katherine here: I’ve written so far about the pre-Christmas preparations. But there was one project we made that involved all of us who were here over the Christmas period.
One of my most treasured Christmas decorations that comes out every year looking sadder and more worn is the crib my children made when small out of toilet rolls, tissue paper, and a bit of glitter and trim. There’s only one shepherd these days, and one king has gone AWOL.I put this picture on Instagram, and a helpful virtual friend of mine from Nice suggested it was missing a Ravi as well. You don’t know what a Ravi is?! Well, a character from the santons of Provence, the Ravi stands amazed at the events taking place, with his (or her) arms in the air. So we got to work, and we got delightfully carried away. I made a Ravi, Stephen created a new king, and son James added a Cagador. (James knows this character as a Cagador having lived in Spain, but it is elsewhere known as a Caganer.) When the Cagador turned round and revealed his true intent, the King and the Ravi turned away, a bit giggly and embarrassed.But they all came together to make a much happier crib scene … Several other creatures and presents crept into the mix … but that’s life isn’t it? All can come to the manger …
This is going to be an indulgent post! I have been making lots of GiveWraps. It’s the birthday season in my family and Christmas is in the offing, so there’s every reason to have a little play with colour, yarns and fabric. Given a nice sunny day (so the light is good in my little Woolly Room), I went into production mode.If there is time, I like to make GiveWraps with particular people in mind. It’s my daughter’s birthday at the end of November and last year I made her a very special GiveWrap using bits of animal print fur fabric scraps left over from her teenage sewing experiments.This year I wanted to do something different. I’ve got some Very Hungry Caterpillar fabric (always a family favourite) – what about that? The caterpillars are interspersed with familiar scraps: the grass-green chintz was left over from blinds I made in our old house, the pink and blue flower fabric was used for curtains in her bedroom …..She likes both cats and the designer Alexander Henry. Happily these two likes come together with some of his wild and wonderful scratchy cat fabric. I think these cats are just wicked! I have some interesting printed scraps from my cousin, Polly (with whom I set out on this GiveWrap adventure). Here is her Microcosm enclosed print in the centre of this blue GiveWrap. She has printed it on an old tablecloth that once belonged to our grandfather. You can see his name embroidered on the plain linen. I’ve kept it in partly because it is our shared story, and partly because it is an example of beautiful craftsmanship in itself.I had a few tiny scraps of Microcosm enclosed left over and wanted to emphasise the facial aspects of the print so I put them with these pieces from my old and very worn-out yukata. I love these Japanese ladies! The yukata was originally white – and a reject from my mother. I dyed it turquoise – a great success – and wore it and wore it and patched it and patched it. Eventually the time came to admit defeat – but these lovely ladies have found a new life in my GiveWraps, and don’t they work well with the purple?! There’s a faintly mauve tone in their kimonos which is why it all works together so well.There are more people in this print of Polly’s. The figures on the right are her as a little girl beside her mother. I thought long and hard about how to make this GiveWrap. I definitely wanted to emphasise the vertical lines so eventually settled on tree and leaf prints. It seemed to be important to place the print on the right so that the figures could look over the GiveWrap – and Polly’s fish print just snuck in on the left.Now for some dragons – but what on earth was I going to put with them? I knew that I wanted to pick out the orange of Polly’s dragon prints and contrast it with green. Then, by chance, I came across this owl fabric with its orangey-reddy-brown owls on a soft leafy green background – just perfect! Lots more leafy fabrics in the mix as well. I deliberately set the dragons in two columns “facing” each other and “upside down” to each other (so to speak). It’s a trick borrowed from the yukata ladies above that I particularly like.There were still more of Polly’s printed dragon scraps. These dragons have been printed on a very fine gold silk, and – don’t ask me why! – they set themselves in browny-grey fabrics, and then the Alexander Henry scratchy cats just asked to join in! Sorted!!On a roll now, I made yet another GiveWrap I really struggled with this one. The fabric in the centre is from a very beautiful Indian silk dress of my grandmother’s – alas, perishing. You may just be able to see that the pink flowers are picked out with gold threads – so much work in it. It was a very straight short shift dress – so not a lot of material – and I had no idea what to do with it, except, of course, make a GiveWrap. But I found it a hard challenge to find colours and patterns that married with those delicate colours.
As it turned out, it is a very sentimental GiveWrap, using lots of pieces that have strong associations. The small brown flower print is from the first dress I ever bought myself – in the 60s! It was kept because my mother loved it – and used it for patchwork. I’ve added strips of the soft brown needlecord that was leftover from a dress I made my little daughter many years ago. How nice to have found a home for these special pieces. But will I ever be able to pass this GiveWrap on?And lastly two knitted GiveWraps which I have been working on by the fireside in the evenings. Here I was using up scraps of knitting wool and some chenille too. These are knitted in linen stitch which gives a pleasing woven effect. They are such fun to put together – it’s really fabric creation at its most basic. Little odd strands of contrast colour lift the whole. One knitted in reds and pinks ….… and the other has some orange in the mix.Time to tidy up my little Woolly Room and turn to other projects. It’s a tiny room and I have to be very disciplined as I work.All these GiveWraps have labels on the back. I’ve given up using the computer for labels, finding it too much of a struggle for my printer. However, Anne Wheaton has some helpful advice on printing labels and perhaps when I’m next making GiveWraps, I’ll try one of her methods.
About a year ago, my cousin Polly and I found ourselves searching for a textile project we could work on together. We had lived quite divergent lives but as we approached the age of retirement discovered a new friendship from our shared love of textiles and gardens – and family history.
We cast around, floated various ideas. And then I came across this blogpost by Rebecca of Needle and Spindle on GiveWraps. Lightbulb moment! – could this be what Polly and I were looking for? I emailed the link to her in hope, got an enthusiastic response, and we were away!
In a nutshell, Rebecca’s idea – implemented with her friends at the Needlework Collective – was to replace our wasteful culture of disposable wrapping paper with handmade re-usable gift-wrappers. Each GiveWrap gets a label on the back, giving the maker’s name, locality and date. Then they are set free: given, wrapped around the gift and the new owner can re-use them so (ideally) they get passed on and on and on. (Some people have been known to keep them because they like them so much …)
Polly and I were inspired. She is an artist and print-maker; I am a knitter, spinner and sewer. We were excited at the prospect of making gift-wrappers together, both because we love making things with fabrics and prints and colours, and because it is so sensible – after all, it is horrendous that so much wrapping paper gets thrown away after Christmas and birthdays.
So this is how we started. Polly gave me some of her fabric printed pictures and I stitched them together with a sort of patchwork of fabrics. This is one of the first GiveWraps we made together – one of my favourites. I wonder where it is now?There are stories in all these GiveWraps. There are stories in the fabrics I have used, where they have come from, what people I associate with them. There are stories in Polly’s prints too. (She will explain more later on.)
We were having such fun! We made contact with Rebecca and the Needlework Collective and told them how much we were enjoying ourselves making GiveWraps. Rebecca was kind enough to write a follow-up blogpost about our English take on their wizard Australian idea. By Christmas, we had made lots of GiveWraps together to send off to family and friends.We decided to set one of our GiveWraps flying back to Australia, so we sent a GiveWrap to the Needlework Collective. (The fabrics and prints have stories: Polly has printed the Japanese character for eternity in red, along with other patterns, on an old napkin that belonged to our mutual grandfather; I have stitched it onto a green backing that was once a dress belonging to my Australian grandmother.)And we received one back from them. (This one also has a story: it was made from worn and much loved shirts by Rebecca and embellished to just brilliant effect with simple decorations made from these same shirts.)And then – as is the way with the best bands – there came a point when we decided we were going to do our own thing. Not, of course, that we were splitting up – we still planned to work together again…
I’ve got a large collection of knitted tension and pattern swatches, and they lend themselves so well to GiveWrappery. This is a sample for a beaded cardigan I made myself. I have crocheted round the edge of the swatch to finish it off.These knitted swatches got me thinking. Why not knit a GiveWrap straight off? Here is my first attempt. It looks woven but is actually knitted. (I think it is what is called Woven Stitch).You can make GiveWraps from all sorts of things. Another cousin, Lucy, gave me her beloved pink cashmere cardigan when it literally fell to bits and became too moth-holed to wear, hoping I’d find some use for it. I patched the moth holes with stars, cut the arms off and gave it a fabric backing. Whey hey! – it’s a GiveWrap. Lucy got her Christmas present wrapped in this GiveWrap that year.When my mother moved to a retirement home, she gave me all her sewing materials, including these blue squares of fabric, pre-cut for some project she’d had in mind. They make a nice GiveWrap – and, of course, I used it to wrap a present to her.The best GiveWraps are made with people in mind. My son’s girlfriend, Barbara, loves cats, so I knitted this GiveWrap for her one year. (I don’t think she’s passed it on 🙂 )For my daughter Helen, I dug deep into my stash and put together a GiveWrap of all the animal print fur fabrics she loved. (I know she hasn’t passed on this GiveWrap 🙂 )This GiveWrap was made with a very special friend in mind. I wanted to convey to her what it is to live here in Northumberland, within sight of the sea. I was sewing it when the fields around the house were gold and yellow, and sky and the sea were oh so blue.Enough of my GiveWraps! Now I’m going to pass you on to Polly for her to tell you about her GiveWraps and the stories behind them.
For me the pleasure of the GiveWrap project has been in connecting with people: with Katherine and family history, with Rebecca through her original inspiration, with the friends I pass the GiveWraps on to, and more widely through Instagram. It’s a way of sending my work out into the world. It’s about value which has nothing to do with monetary value.
I was already printing a bit onto fabric with Akua inks, but with the GiveWrap impetus I went into full-scale production! As well as old family linen I used beloved worn-out clothes, and rummaged around in charity shops for interesting fabric. I got out my old lino blocks and was pleased to see these images reincarnated as repetitive patterns. Here is an early one, printed onto a woven silk scarf that Katherine’s mother (my aunt) had given me long ago.Katherine asked me to print something for her mother’s birthday – it had to be blue, her mother’s favourite colour. It turned out very blue indeed! She then backed it with her old Japanese dressing-gown and beaded the edge beautifully. Katherine is an ace sewer whereas my sewing is perfunctory – I prefer the messy business of printing and developing an image that way. You can see our mutual grandfather’s name embroidered in the corner, most likely by our grandmother.I rarely plan ahead, but start somewhere and then see where it takes me. Even when I think it’s a disaster, the Japanese kanji for eternity – repeated and dancing across the surface – will miraculously pull a design together. Katherine’s father tapestried this symbol onto a cushion cover for my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary, and it has become a recurrent motif in my GiveWraps (did you spot it several times in Katherine’s blog as well as in these last two pictures?)
Rebecca sent me a damaged table-cloth all the way from Australia and I had such fun working around the spoilt area and turning it into a GiveWrap. Here is the finished result:With a close-up of the rescued area:I sent it back to Australia with little English presents from Cambridge for her family. The backing is from a duvet cover I made for my parents in my 20s, fabric I still love.
Friends started giving me fabric once they saw what I was doing. I was inspired by an old sarong to print fish onto a silk handkerchief . Held up to the light you can see the fish from the backing as well as the fish I’ve printed. Often friends receive gifts wrapped in a GiveWrap of their own fabric.On the left there you can just see a silhouette of me and my mother, taken from a photo. My mother didn’t like the precise business of sewing any more than I do, but she did have an old Singer machine and there are intimations of her showing me how to thread it whenever I use my much more modern version. In my current imagery I am on a journey with my mother – though she died in 1990. Here we are together, on our way somewhere with the fish. (Katherine can’t resist commenting here that this is my favourite of Polly’s GiveWraps, and it’s with me at the moment – may not be travelling for a while!)In this one you can see my mother as a child peeping out from the corner with her doll. The Japanese onlooker is the lamp that sat on my brother’s bedside table throughout our growing-up years. She is often looking on, a kind of witness, in my images.It’s astonishing how clear printing can be on old linen, often with the added beauty of the damask pattern showing through. This one is a drypoint, for those of you interested in the printing process. I still have stacks of family table-cloths and napkins to use – what a satisfying way to give them another lease of life.I love the process of putting imagery onto fabric that already has history and meaning – texture in the fullest sense – and then turning it into a beautiful gift complete with carefully chosen ribbon. I used to be impatient with wrapping presents but now I enjoy it – no more carting rolls of wrapping paper home, no more sellotape and wasteage! The only problem is that sometimes the gift has to be chosen to fit the GiveWrap – to be honest often the present is only an excuse for the GiveWrap…….. This one’s on a silk handkerchief that belonged to my father, and I gave it to my brother for Christmas. I can’t remember what was inside……
Let’s end where we started. Recently Polly and I started making GiveWraps together again. Here are Polly’s green fish, set in watery and weedy fabrics.If you use Instagram, you can check out these and many many more GiveWraps that we – and lots of other people – have made. Search under the #GiveWrap hashtag, and be sure to add any GiveWraps you may make 🙂 . A big big thank you to Rebecca, Aisha and Emily (AKA the Needlework Collective) for setting us on this wonderful GiveWrap journey!
(If you too are inspired to make a GiveWrap, check out Rebecca’s original post for ideas and instructions.)