Christmas rush

Not much time for blogging recently, with markets every weekend, Christmas parties and events, and trying to prepare for the event itself. Needless to say, I’ve failed miserably on the last count!

Markets have been going well, with sales increasing every week. I’ve sold some scarves and pots, but unsurprisingly it’s the smaller, cheaper items that sell most. The spectacle cases, Oystercard holders and smartphone cases made from old pilots’ charts are particularly popular, and the ones made from recycled plastic bags, bubble wrap and embroidery also have their fans.

I nearly sold out of them last weekend, so have been frantically making new batches for the pop-up stalls at Brixton Village this weekend.

Finally started making Christmas cards last night with ESP. The idea was to do a monoprint in two colours, but it took longer than expected, so we’ve only managed the first colour so far. (The pattern may look familiar! ) Still a bit of time before the last posting date for Christmas…

A stitch in time

Brixton is currently sprouting markets like mushrooms. As well as the monthly makers’ market (which is this Saturday – and did I mention I’ll have a stall there?!), there are now monthly flea markets and vintage markets, as well as food on Fridays.

I dropped in on the first flea market last Saturday and came across a stall selling old origami and craft books. Among the collection was a volume called Contemporary Whitework by Tracy A Franklin and Nicola Jarvis. Having become rather bogged down with printing over recent weeks, I think it may inspire me to take up the needle and do some more stitching.

Drawn thread work and pulled work look a bit too fiddly, but it might be interesting to experiment with some Richelieu and cutwork, and I love the textures produced by Mountmellick embroidery.

Avril, one of the students who was on the creative and experimental textiles course at Morley College with me last year, has been working on some beautiful embroidered buttons recently.

However, although I admire the effects of whitework, I think it would be very difficult for me to work in monochrome! I need colour as well as texture, so I’m more likely to use the techniques to continue on my rainbow-coloured path, as in the sample of fused plastic bags and bubble wrap below.

Plarn coiled bowl

I’ve written before about knitting and crocheting with plarn (plastic yarn). But you can also use plastic like any other yarn or fibre to make coiled baskets or bowls.  Cindy’s method of making plarn is best for this, as the joins are relatively smooth and you don’t get big knots sticking out (unless that’s the look you want).

The main problem with using plarn for coiling is that it’s quite fragile. It depends on how thick the plastic is, of course – the bags I used for the bowl in the photo above were very thin. If I pulled the plarn hard, it stretched; if I pulled even harder, it broke. But the wrapping needs to be quite firm, especially the wraps that join two coils together. So it takes a bit of practice.

I also found it easier if the strands of plarn are not too long. I joined two loops of plarn, started wrapping, and when I had nearly reached the end joined on another two loops. If it’s longer than this the plarn tends to get caught or tangled, and there was more risk of it being stretched or broken as I tried to untangle it.

The bowl I made is a bit ‘fluid’ in places (‘expressively organic’, I’d say!). But it was very satisfying to make, and I’m going to try some more.

Crocheted coasters

My experiments with ironing knitted swatches of plastic yarn (plarn) showed that they lost their elasticity. So I thought I could use this to advantage by ironing some crocheted coasters.

The photo below shows a crocheted circle before ironing. It’s a bit difficult to see, but the different types of plastic make the texture quite uneven, and the coaster doesn’t sit quite flat.

Crocheted coaster before ironing
Crocheted coaster before ironing

The photo below shows the coaster after ironing – interestingly, it doesn’t shrink very much.

Crocheted coaster after ironing
Crocheted coaster after ironing

And below is a collection of coasters in different colours. Again, the various plastics all behave slightly differently, leading to varying sizes and irregularities in texture, but I think this is part of their charm.

Four crocheted coasters
Different plastics result in variations in size and texture

Plastic flowers

At the moment I’m going through a plastics phase.

My interest in plastic was piqued when my tutor at Morley College asked us to bring in old newspapers (for working with paste grain papers) and plastic bags (for turning into yarn to knit with). I’d just discovered knitting with paper string to make a page for my sample album (see previous post), so I thought I’d experiment with knitting plastic myself.

So I cut up a couple of Wallis bags into strips and knitted them up in garter stitch and stocking stitch (4.5mm needles and 20 stitches in a row). The result, below, was a stretchy rectangle in black, white and grey, with lots of knots on one side where I had joined the strips of plastic together.

Knitted plastic sample
Knitted sample from Wallis plastic bags - the knots are all on the other side!

I rather liked the texture and stretchiness of the sample, but wasn’t sure what I could do with it. There are lots of online articles about knitting plastic shopping bags, but I think the stretchiness of the material could be a disadvantage here –  the finished bag could distort and stretch out of shape very quickly if you carry anything heavy. Plus all the knots are a bit unsightly.

I solved the knotty problem by discovering a new way of making plarn, by cutting the bag in loops instead. I also experimented with knitting – and crocheting – with different types of plastic, turning them into flowers. For the record, Marks & Spencer and Sainsbury’s bags are quite difficult to work with – they don’t slide across steel or plastic needles very well (I’ve read that bamboo needles are better for this). The easiest bags for knitting are the cheap, thin ones – pedal bin liners and the cheap bags from market stalls.

Knitted flower
Flower (unfinished) knitted from Marks & Spencer bags (centre) and cheap market bags (petals)
Crocheted flower
Chrysanthemum crocheted from Sainsbury's bags

Then I thought of a way to use the stretchiness of knitted plastic to advantage – as an iPhone cover. When it’s empty, the cover is smaller than the phone, but it stretches to ensure a snug fit. In the cover in the photo below, I combined plarn made from lilac pedal bin liners with novelty ‘eyelash’ yarn (10 stitches per row, 100 rows in stocking stitch).

Handknitted iPhone cover
The plarn iPhone cover stretches to ensure a snug fit