GiveWraps

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?Polly and katherine's Second GiveWrapThere 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.Lots of GiveWraps for Christmas presentsWe 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.)Christmas GiveWrap for NeedleworkCollectiveAnd 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.)Rebecca's worn & loved shirt GiveWrapAnd 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.Katherine's Beaded knitted GiveWrapThese 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).Knitted woven stitch GiveWrapYou 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.New life for Lucy's cardy GiveWrapWhen 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.Re-using Mary's patchwork GiveWrapThe 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 🙂 )Katherine's knitted cat GiveWrapFor 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 🙂 )Fleecy and furry animal print GiveWrapThis 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.Northumbrian sea and sky and golden fields GiveWrapEnough 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.

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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.Polly's GiveWrap G1Katherine 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.Polly and Katherine's GiveWrap for Mary G2I 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:Transformation of damaged tablecloth into GiveWrap G3With a close-up of the rescued area:Detail of damaged tablecloth GiveWrap G4I 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.Polly's GiveWrap G5On 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!)Polly's GiveWrap of her mother and childIn 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.Japanese doll and Polly's mother as witnessIt’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.Drypoint image GiveWrap G8I 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……GiveWrap ready to go G9

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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.Polly & Katherine's recent fish GiveWrapIf 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.) 

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My batik dress

Rooting around in my fabric stash, I found that I had quite a surprisingly big piece of teal-blue batik fabric left over after making myself a skirt several years ago.  This is one of my favourite fabrics, and it came from one of the best  fabric shops I know,  Truro Fabrics.

There are lots of things I like about this fabric – I find the simple geometric patterns and the streaks of colour change particularly pleasing.  In places there are yellow streaks, as though I’ve spilt my coffee on the fabric – I just love these variegated shades!variegated colours in fabricSo I have the fabric – and I also have a pattern.  This pattern belonged to my grandmother.  Simplicity paper patternShe liked to wear very simple straight cut dresses.  I don’t think the dress she was wearing below was cut from the pattern I’m using, but it’s very similar.Dordy wearing batik dress 1971So I have fabric and a pattern – but the finished dress isn’t at all what you’d be expecting!

First of all, I cut through the paper pattern at bodice level.  Then I cut a skirt nearly twice as wide as the existing skirt pattern, and I fitted it to the bodice with four pleats in the front and six on the back.dress showing pleats in skirtStupidly, I cut the front bodice without thinking – (but as the pattern dictated) – in two pieces.  Unfortunately, the central join looked stupid – the pattern just didn’t fit.  So I added a central placket to take the eye of the mismatched pattern.  It looked a bit better.correcting bodice problemsNow I’m toying with the sleeve lengths.  I’m not sure whether to go for elbow length or shorter.  And I don’t like the way the inset sleeves are puffy where they join the bodice – hmm, that doesn’t appear to happen on the original pattern.  Out come my pattern-cutting guidebooks to help me work out how I can get the smooth inset sleeve that I like.working on the sleeveTime now to play with the neckline!  I’ve cut it right down from the original pattern as that was too tight round my throat.  Would I like to add a collar?  Small or large?  Or perhaps use some other fabric for the collar?working on the collarI want to add pockets, but they’re not included in the pattern, so I have to get out another dress that has good pockets to use them as a template. making a pocketI’ve decided to scrap the idea of adding a collar, but I can’t used the original facing that came with the paper pattern as I’ve cut the neckline down so low.working on the collar facingThe back of the dress is a bit “bustley” – it looks as though I’ve got a tail, or a bustle (as they wore in Edwardian times).  So I’ve stitched down the skirt pleats at the back in a fan shape – the central pleat stitching is longer than the side pleat stitching.Pleats in back of dressThe only trouble with this fabric is that is stiff.  I guess it is because of the residual wax from the batik printing.  Consequently, the skirt doesn’t hang very softly.  Luckily, I’ve got a lining left spare from a skirt I’ve taken to pieces for patchwork.  This lining is a soft rayon, and it’s cut on the cross.  It fits perfectly!  It doesn’t make the dress to swishy (I hate it when you can hear your skirt/dress lining swish as you walk along), but just adds to the soft hang of the whole.skirt liningSo here is the finished dress!Katherine trying on dressNow to experiment with what I can wear with it!!Katherine trying on dress with orange cardi

My story quilt

Katherine holding quilt wide Last year, several things came together for me.

I found myself spending much more time sewing than I had for many years.

I was inspired by a blogpost I read by Rebecca of Needle and Spindle in which she wrote about the Needleworks Collective and their GiveWrap idea.  In brief, they aspire to reduce the horrific throwaway culture of Christmas and present wrapping paper by replacing it with beautiful handmade fabric wrappers which could be used and re-used many times.

As it happened, my cousin Polly and I were looking for a project that we might work on together.  In her spare time from music and Alexander teaching, Polly is a part-time printmaker.  Together we evolved a system of making joint GiveWraps with her printed fabric scraps incorporated in my surrounding patchwork.  We had such fun!  Here is our first GiveWrap (you can see Polly’s inclining printed ladies in the centre bands).First joint GiveWrapWe made a lot of GiveWraps last Christmas.  And I realised with a start that I was using up all my special fabric treasures on GiveWraps that I would probably never see again (the central tenet of GiveWrappery is that you pass it on, and then the GiveWrap is passed on again and again).

Further inspiration came at Christmas when Polly gave me the powerful novel, The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd.  This is a story of slavery in America’s deep south.  One of the slaves, Charlotte,  is a fine seamstress, and makes a quilt to record her life story for her daughter.  Aha!! My quilt is nothing like Charlotte’s quilt (it’s arrogant of me even to compare them), but the seed of an idea was sewn, and I embarked on my own story quilt, sewing the odd fabric pieces together in the same way that I had made my GiveWraps.The invention of wingsTo give some sense of structure to what was really rather a haphazard quilt, I decided to restrict myself to the red, orange, yellow colour spectrum on one side, and blues and greens on the other.  Purples and browns, blacks and whites crept in unbidden everywhere.

I started with a mess.  So many fabrics, so many scraps, so many memories – just so much to put in.fabrics strewn everywhereIn the end, I had to be strict with myself.  After I had completed the central body of each side of the quilt, I allowed myself to put in only one piece of each of the fabrics that were left in the mitred edges.  Here the blue/green side is being built up to match the completed red/orange/yellow side.building up blue green side of quiltI added the polyester wadding to the red/orange/yellow side first.  You can see my basting threads holding the two layers together.  Our cat Poe thinks it is a new play place, and is not helping with the next step: adding the blue/green layer to complete the whole. Poe on battingWhile all this piecing was going on, I was researching quilting methods – after all, this was my very first quilt.  I watched youtube training videos, searched the internet for advice, dug out my mother’s old quilting and patchwork books.  I invested in thimbles and a curious thing called Aunt Becky’s finger protector  (which helps prevent you ending up with sore, needle-pricked fingers).  With all three layers well-basted together, I set to with my thimble, Aunt Becky’s finger protector and needle.

Disaster!  I really am very bad at quilting!  My nice level running stitches on one side were completely wonky on the other.  Nothing for it but to ditch the hand-sewing and turn to the man and the machine.

The man is the measurer and calculator – absolutely essential if you are as dodgy with numbers as I am.  Here he ruminates and studies my wonky efforts.  It’s going to be tricky to get straight measurements here……. Stephen measuringBut with old-fashioned rulers and long metal tape-measures, we did get straightish white chalk lines on the quilt.  They are 6.5 inches apart.  I managed to machine it up – just!  I’m not sure my machine would have been able to cope with a larger or thicker piece of work.measuring toolsThe machine quilting worked surprisingly well, and it looks good – I now had a proper quilt! getting all quiltyTime for the edging.  I’d originally planned to use a single strip of brown and purple fabrics for the edging, but it soon became clear this wasn’t going to work.  The purples and browns planned for the red/orange side were far too strong and intense in colour for the lighter-toned blue/green side.  So I had to make a special binding, combining suitable toned colours for each side.sewing the bindingThen the bindings were hand-stitched onto the quilt.  sewing on the bindingSo what have I put in my quilt?  Well, all sorts really. There are fabrics that have come from clothes I have worn, my sisters and mother have worn, and my grandmother wore too.  There are little bits of projects I have started or done as test pieces.  The fabrics used include silks, satins, cottons, tweed, towelling and jersey.  (You can click on all these images to see the text more clearly).quilt story edited with textThere are new fabrics, fabrics that have come from much-loved clothes, fabrics that have just been in the family for so long that I don’t know where they came from.

I have added my name to the quilt and the date and place.  A little bit of Latin (and elsewhere Greek) since I was a student of Greek and Latin at university. There are knitting sheep at either end of my name – new fabric, representing my fleecy knitting interests.  Katherine's signatureThen there are the hearts.  I put the first heart in because it was a left-over from one of my mother’s sewing projects.  Mummy's original heartThen I realised that I had the perfect use for all those extra bits of fabric that I badly wanted to include but no longer had any room for.another fabric heartThis heart is from an exquisitely embroidered Serbian blouse – it’s probably 50 years old as my grandmother wore it before me.  The rest of the garment is yellowed and perished but the embroidered panels are still in good condition.Yugoslavia embroidery heart   There are bits of poetry too.  The words in this photograph  have come from one of Stephen’s poems. Stephen's poemThe squirrel in a go-kart in this photographic is fabric I used to make bedheads and pillow cases for my children when they were young.children's fabricsI don’t think my quilt will ever really be finished.  This bit of text that I’m currently working on acknowledges Stephen’s help with maths and measuring: Mathematics by Stephen!mathematics by StephenIt’s a great pleasure to lie in bed under the quilt and look at all the pieces, to remember stories and people, events and places.  What I did not expect to enjoy so much is the handle of a quilt – it is so light and comfortably squishy.  Perhaps I’ll just wear it for a while.Katherine huddled up in quilt