A Question of Blessing

It’s been a while since I mentioned the quilts of hope project, it had to be put on a back burner while I finished my degree. But it was something that I was so passionate about I knew I’d return to it at some point.

Well, for those who are new to the blog and those who’ve forgotten what the quilts were about, here is a recap…

The quilts of hope project combined two thoughts; What happens when people craft together and How does a fabric become a spiritual object.

Although the idea of making a quilt with messages on was one I thought of in my first year at university it wasn’t until the end of my second year that I got to sit down with a group of students and hand sew a quilt.

What I found fascinating wasn’t the skill needed, in fact the quilting process is a very simple in and out stitch that is quick and easy to learn. It was the community that I found interesting.

Folk who knit in groups might know what I’m on about when I talk about the comradery of crafting together. I used to go to a knitting group where was sat in a group knitting our own projects, but the conversation was what brought us together. I think those fellow knitters knew more about me than my GP did!

There’s been a long tradition of community crafting, from waulking cloth and singing songs in time with the process to the modern day yarn bombing. There’s some connection to sitting around and working together and chatting together that is perhaps as therapeutic as a psychotherapy session.

As I worked with the students, all at least a decade younger than I, sitting around a quilt and sewing the very simple stitch we began to chat together, then sing from the radio (ABBA songs seem to be good for all generations) then our conversation turned into this magical therapeutic atmosphere where no subject was off guard and we moved away from sharing niceties to discussing the truth of our lives. Depression, eating disorders, suicide, stress… subjects that perhaps would only be shared after a long period of friendship were suddenly being discussed openly, with no worry or fear.

There was no feeling of being embarrassed or as though you were sharing something that would trigger some uncontrollable emotional situation, in a sense our conversation, though quite deep, had an air of lightness and refreshment.

I’ve experienced counselling and quite often, when a heavy subject has been discussed, it can leave a sense of dread for quite a while after. Here though there was none of the heavy after-thoughts of sharing.

Perhaps it was simply that we had something else to do.

Maybe, that barrier that stops us from being open, or the inner voice that tells us we’ll be misunderstood or judged as unacceptable, had been removed. The simple act of distraction by our hands working, whether knitting or the simple stitch of quilting, has the power to free us from self-discrimination.

If churches really wanted to reach their community what better way of doing so than a community group that had the ability to really get to know its participants. Imagine the folk around the church area, coming together for a crafting purpose and whilst crafting, talking together about the issues that really matter.

The second thought came through a long term relationship with a local charity.

The Joanna project works in the red light area, going out at night to meet the women as they work and pray, feed and care for them. During the day they also have a safe house where the women can come and eat, shower and see a number of professionals to get help to change their lives for the better.

Sometimes, when you get to know a woman who has suffered from unspeakable abuse, there’s a feeling that you just want to reach out and hug them.

When you think about a hug, this act of holding onto someone and not letting go because you think it makes them feel safe. It might work for some, but when working with someone who knows what it’s like to be forced against their will, it can feel like being trapped all over again.

Speaking personally, because it’s all I can do, I know what it’s like to be trapped. To be in a position where someone has you pinned down, you’re not free to wriggle out or step away. I know the fear of being held against my will and when someone comes to hug me, there’s often the same feeling.

I know that most people are hugging you as a sign of love, but for those who know entrapment, a hug isn’t that different. Quite often it’s a spontaneous act that’s done without asking permission. I was reminded of the fear that comes with a hug last week when I was at a workshop on poverty. I was speaking about mental illness and was saying something rather difficult and filled with emotion. A woman I didn’t know jumped up and came quickly behind me and hugged me.

I understand that she was doing something she thought was a nice gesture, but I’ve experienced people coming behind me and putting their arms around me, only it wasn’t done out of kindness.

How do you hug someone, when a hug can do more harm than good?

And that’s how the Quilts of Hope project was born.

Imagine a quilt, hand stitched with messages of love and hope, sewn together by people at community quilting workshops, where folk from all backgrounds come together, sit around a quilting frame and stitch together. Pouring their love of vulnerable women into squares which are turned into a physical textile ‘hug’.

In one sense, a community of people, gathering for an evening in a church hall, learning the basics of quilting, and experiencing a place where they are free to talk openly about their lives in an atmosphere of acceptance. Where church folk can start the process of making real friends and connections with folk in the community.

But then, what is made from these workshops, a quilt given to a women’s shelter.

Where, at a woman’s most vulnerable moment, when a physical hug can cause pain, she can wrap herself in the quilt, giving herself total freedom of movement, can rest beneath the quilt, read the messages of love, and feel safe and loved knowing there are hundreds of women behind the quilt, all praying for and loving her.

Finally, the first quilt has been finished and the next question for me begins.

How does a piece of cloth become a spiritual object?

Behind the Quilts of Hope is a belief that our prayers can go with the quilt to the women we do not know. I don’t know who will use the quilt, I don’t know the needs of the people who will bury themselves underneath it, so all I have is the prayers I pray for the unknown women, that’s something only God knows.

I’ve always thought that I’d like some sort of blessing said over a quilt before it’s sent off, perhaps five minutes of a church service where the church pray for the women who will use the quilt and perhaps where those who’ve worked on the quilt can come and see off their square once it’s been joined to the whole.

Yet, now that time has come, it feels somewhat silly (again, that inner voice of self-doubt) Does it matter that a church has had a final prayer? Aren’t the silent prayers of the individual quilters enough? Well, of course they are, but somehow, I want a final… well, a final blessing. Does that sound crazy?

I remember as a child, our Sunday School got a new piano, well new to us!

I remember clearly listening to the Sunday school leader talking about the piano having a history, pointing out a ring stain left from perhaps a pint of beer, and the question that maybe once, this piano had a very different life. Then I remember praying for the piano, and it’s new life being used for God.

I remember too, a collection of brass instruments being donated and sent to Africa where they were needed, and I remember the instruments being laid on the mercy seat and praying over them.

So it’s certainly not a new idea, and I wonder whether this is something that God is putting on my heart because He also thinks it’s an important part of the quilt process.

My next question is this, What would that blessing look like?

And here’s where I need your thoughts, please comment or email your thoughts on this.

How do we hand over the quilt? Do we invite a staff member from the joanna project to come and be handed the quilt? Do we lay the quilt at the front of church for people to lay a hand on it? Do I just ask for prayers or do I spend a couple of minutes explaining the ideas behind the project?

I really look forward to hearing what people think about this.

In the meantime I start on the next quilt. This time for the Salvation Army’s human trafficking unit. I have no idea where this one will end up, except that it’ll be used for people who’ve experienced being trafficked in the U.K.

I’m thinking, perhaps the people who will need this quilt won’t have English as a first language, so I’ve been asking for squares with hearts on… a universal sign of love. However, messages are welcome too!

I’m still a few squares short, so if you want to make a square email me for details. Also (a little pitch here) if you want the quilts of hope project to come to your church or community group, please get in touch. I can only make these quilts if people invite me to come and make them with you.

Inspirational Yarn – Betty’s Doll Wool

Over the past seven days I’ve introduced you to seven names that make up the seven skin tones of my doll wool.

Last year I was obsessively making dolls for my final university project, these Northern Folk dolls were a challenge to me, a doll maker, in whether I could produce a doll that was locally sourced, naturally made and inspired by local folk.

The main part of the dolls was the yarn that I used to crochet them with, at the time I used an acrylic wool. This is pretty much what 99.9% of knitted and crochet dolls are made up of.

The only skin tones I could find was a few browns and the only lighter skin tone was Sirdar Hayfield which is a budget acrylic yarn.

Over the last few years, and with the introduction of amigurumi, crochet doll making has increased in popularity and yet the shades of yarn remained the same.

I think one of the problems was yarn manufacturers thinking only in terms of clothing and in reality, who wants a flesh coloured jumper?

Another problem was the use of acrylic, I’m not a yarn snob, not at all, but we’re in a situation where we need to take a serious look at plastic and it’s effect on the world.

It seems crazy that the Media seem obsessed with our use of plastic straws and yet celebrate Christmas jumper day, a day when we all buy a new acrylic ugly jumper which we’ll wear only a handful of times before discarding.

So, It had to be done, I had to make a wool yarn in skin tones, just for my final university project, and I admit, at the time I had the intention of continuing to use acrylic after university because, well, not only am I not a yarn snob, but I am very much against yarn snobbery.

After months of testing dyes and wools and turning my kitchen into a dyers studio I found seven tones that I liked.

I chose the Cheviot sheep as a breed for the wool, being a Northern sheep breed, I might not be a yarn snob, but I’m certainly passionate about Northern quality.

I found a family run mill helping me keep big fat-cat companies as far away from the project as possible, and a local small dye company with a similar family feel. I can’t trace my wool back to the sheep, but pretty close. The farmers take the wool to Bradford, it’s spun in Huddersfield and using dyes from Sheffield I create the wool in Leeds. Even the pipe cleaners I used for the armatures came from a small factory in Huddersfield.

local craftspeople doing what they do best

It seems a shame to keep such a great wool all to myself, so after university was over, and I spent some time sorting out my health (for those who don’t know, I’ve done all this whilst being quite ill – No they still don’t know what’s wrong, but the last time I saw the Cardiologist they were thinking about heart failure, but don’t worry, I’m on the up!) I decided to manufacture the wool.

Naming the wool

As many knitters will know, yarn comes in colours and each colour had a name. So, I spent a long time trying to work out what to name the tones (I call them tones rather than colours because they are skin tones and it keeps us thinking we’re all equal in tones rather than separate as colours).

I saw tones named after food (strawberry, chocolate, honey) and tones named after drinks (Latte, Coffee) but it didn’t seem right, in fact it felt wrong.

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The above tone chart comes from Windsor and Newtons felt tip range… Putty! Who on Earth wants to describe themselves as Putty? Isn’t putty that off-white stuff you use on windows?

Then there was my personal feelings about dolls and doll making. There was so much research about the effects of dolls on children and I decided the whole doll making process had to be one of inspiration.

I can’t remember the day it happened, but after weeks and weeks of searching for tone names and looking at images of people from across the world. I decided on using names of people for skin tones. Each person had to be a woman of that skin tone who could be an inspiration to doll makers, doll collectors and most importantly players of dolls.

It was important that when a child held a doll  of a darker skin tone, they knew that there was no limits to who they could be in life. People like Mae Jemison, who had dreams of going into space as a child, tell the young children of today that their dreams can become reality, that no one has the right to quash the dreams of the young.

No one can stop a plus sized young girl like Shelby from being an athlete. Sports companies might not make plus sized athletic wear, thinner people might try their best to body shame larger children into dieting, but size doesn’t matter in our dreams and Shelby, with her Princess attitude proves just that.

Coming from wealth or coming from poverty, having two parents or none, having the best paid education, attending funded courses or learning later in life makes no difference in getting where you want to be in life.

I have the privilege of being a doll maker, it’s a magical job where I have the power to inspire the next generation simply by making the dolls that will inspire their dreams.

So here is the wool, ready to buy and inspire…

The seven shades will be available on my Etsy shop and on the shop on this website.

The wool comes in 100g skeins, plenty enough for one of my Crochet dolls which are 15″ tall. It’s a thicker side of DK weight yarn but works with 3mm-4mm needles to create a tighter fabric to help avoid stuffing showing through, this is vital for those who make dolls to sell since it’s a requirement of the EU safety laws.

So far only two tones (Shelby and Malala) have been tested to EN71 safety, making it safe for doll and toy making. and it passes the doll flammability tests. It’s going to cost a couple hundred pounds to have all the wools tested so I want to see if it’s popular before spending so much money on testing.

I’m going to boast here…

It’s the only wool of its kind in the world (I searched high and low but perhaps there’s another wool out there) which is made especially for doll making, produced fully in the UK (and apart from the sheep themselves) is produced in Yorkshire.

It’s currently priced at £18/100g although I will do an introductory price and wool shade cards for retail and large orders will be available very soon.

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Meet the dolls 4 – The Coal Miner

The final doll in my final university project. I planned on seven, but really, when it came down to it, my obsession to the little details just took the time and I think I’d rather do four dolls really well, than rush seven.

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The coal miner is more modern and I’ve named him not after a Yorkshire coal miner, but one from Spennymoor in County Durham. Norman Cornish, a coal miner from the age of 14, who took advantage of art classes for miners and became an artist in his 40s. (www.normancornish.com)

I’ve even used some modern technologies, sewable electronics to make a working head lamp.

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I’m sure many folk are thinking why have I made a coal miner when I’m making dolls that represent traditional crafts, and at first the coal miner was the doll I was going to leave until last. Then a few weeks ago I was with my parents and a programme was on the TV which showed a clip about the Lofthouse colliery disaster from 1973, I’d have been 1 years old (yep, I’m sticking with 35 being my current age). My mum looked up and said, ‘oh, your dad was there’.

No, my dad wasn’t a coal miner, although he was a Bevin boy in the war. He was a Salvation Army officer and spent a lot of time providing support to the men during the search for survivors. It reminded me also of a time when years later, as a young Salvation Army member I was collecting money door to door in a nice middle class Lancashire area. It was during the time of the miners strikes. I remember one door opening and a man telling me he wouldn’t give to the Army because we gave to the miners. I didn’t get it being so young, but as I remember the story I decided the miner had to be made.

The dolls represent traditions that are dying out or how I sometimes feel about knitting, becoming only for the privileged. When I was young, people made their own clothes because they couldn’t afford to buy ready made. Now we’re in a place where poorer folk shop at Primark and the wealthy go on sewing classes or extravagant knitting holidays.

I was talking to a lady in the cafe at the National Coal Mining museum a few days ago about crafting. She told me she was a quilter and began quilting to use up all the scraps that she had left over from dress making. But then her husband spoke – describing what she does. He said she buys a yard of fabric, cuts it into pieces and sews the pieces back together to make a quilt. Quilting was once, using up your left over fabric, doll making was using up your left over wool. Now though, there is a worry that crafting is moving from the working classes to an expensive and privileged hobby.

It’s not wrong though (to be a wealthy crafter) and perhaps my gripes should be for another post.

The coal mining industry is another craft (because it is incredibly skilled) that has been lost and although the dolls have been made as a celebration of Yorkshire life and craftsmanship, I wonder if, in the future they’ll be seen as a look into a forgotten past.

 

Meet the dolls 3 – The Knitter

Betty, our knitting doll has been named after Betty Yewdale who, with her friend Sally, were sent to a knitting school in Dent to learn to knit. They hated the school and ran away. Their story is well told here Betty’s tale

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The knitters were often known as the terrible knitters of Dent and like me, they knitted during church services (Hooray!) but unlike me they knitted very fast.

One of the many items knitted in Dent are the fine gloves, knitted similarly to Sanquhar gloves in a fair isle style pattern.

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So, my doll had to have her own knitting and is currently up to the fingers of her second glove. The first one (which took me 6 hours knitted on five 1.5mm double pointed needles) is in her basket along with her balls of wool.

She has a hand knitted plain shawl and a hand carved knitting sheath tucked into her leather belt.

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I think the hardest part of making this doll was remembering to stop making the second glove so Betty could hold the knitting.

Betty has been made after visiting the Dent Village museum and falling a wee bit in love with the people in the museum. Dent Museum

Meet the Dolls 2 – The Clog Maker

My second doll is Frank the clog maker.

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He’s connected to Walkleys clog shop in Mythramoyd, West Yorkshire www.clogs.co.uk

Walkleys is a true must visit place if you’re ever in the area, but if not, they deliver. Imagine having an amazing pair of shoes made just for your feet for the cost of a pair of trainers. But having a pair of locally made shoes from the Craftsmen and women at Walkleys is perhaps one of the highlights of this project, the doll is named after Frank Walkley who started the company in 1946. Yes, I am a big fan!

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Frank has a crocheted flat cap, another Yorkshire must have accessory (for the Yorkshire working man, not the women or gentrified hipster! – personal opinion!)

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I managed to carve some small clogs for the dolls feet and well, not perfectly, but the fit, managed to make a functioning shoe. He’s also holding his next clog in progress.

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Meet the dolls 1 – The Fisherman

You’ve seen pictures of him already but let me officially introduce you to William, the fisherman.

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As with all my dolls in my uni project he’s made from all locally sourced materials. He’s 99% wool (a wee bit of Alpaca and a pipe cleaner). He’s filled with British lambswool and a pipe cleaner (made in Huddersfield, 30mins from my home, but I picked it up on my home from Uni, so technically carbon footprint is as low as it can be.

The pattern for the doll is the My Little Crochet Doll pattern that I wrote some time ago and is available on both Etsy and Ravelry. I searched worldwide for a 100% wool in flesh tones, but couldn’t find any, so I had to dye my own. I used a small dye manufacturer a little less local (Sheffield), about a 45min drive away.

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The yarn is Cheviot, a Northern sheep with hard wearing but mid softness, not scratchy, but will stand up to whatever a child puts dolls through. The wool is from British sheep but is spun in Huddersfield.

All the white, greys and brown clothing on the dolls is using a commercial yarn, Illustrious, by West Yorkshire Spinners, I used this to show off wools variety of natural shades. Each doll also has a dyed wool item of clothing.

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William has a blue traditional Gansey and a matching cable hat.  The gansey includes the tradition underarm gusset and a pattern based around the Scarborough and Whitby ganseys.

He is linked to the Scarborough Maritime Heritage Centre, a small museum near the seafront in Scarborough but is an amazingly friendly place to visit, They even have a Scarborough Gansey on display and several examples of gansey stitches.

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Saturday 21st April 2018

I’m writing this on Sunday since I didn’t finish my knitting till 3am and wanted to show it here.

I visited the Scarborough maritime heritage centre today.

Each doll is going to be linked to a place that represents the character of the doll and I chose this heritage centre for personal reasons over than popularity.

When I asked people to recommend a place that represented Ganseys in Yorkshire I had a lot of suggestions of commercial places in Whitby and Filey. I’m not opposed to linking with a commercial business, in fact the next doll is linked to a shop, but where I can I want to highlight some of the lesser known tourist centres.

I chose Scarborough for my own links to the area, it’s where my grandparents lived and I’ve a lot of lovely memories of the town.

As I’ve been around the town I’ve also noticed the friendliness of people. I’m staying in the Grand, it’s one of those places you look at as a kid and think it’s only for the posh people. It’s a ‘grand’ building and the staff are wonderful, but the building is not being looked after (my bedroom window was kept shut with gaffer tape).

It’s a shame that British seasides often have the reputation they do, but there are signs that Scarborough is fighting back. Looking for toilets yesterday I found the indoor market, it’s not the bustling place I remember, but new artisan businesses are popping up and although perhaps not as much use to the locals as it once was, for tourists it’s a must visit place.

The heritage centre has a small shop space but is packed of interesting things to see. The volunteers are extremely knowledgeable and friendly and I had a good chat about Ganseys.

One glaring ‘mistake’ Gansey knitters will spot on my Gansey is that it isn’t a Scarborough one, it’s a blend of Scarborough and Whitby styles. The traditional Scarborough top half is more a moss stitch, but I chose to add cables instead as a more interesting pattern. I explained this and was told that the Scarborough Gansey is older and perhaps the reason for the lack of details is that cables hadn’t reached us from Aran. Well, who knows.

We chatted about the myths of Ganseys, whether it’s true that the styles of jumpers were to help you be identified and relocated to your fishing village if you drowned at sea. If you read Penelope Hemingway’s book on River Ganseys you might agree with her (and me) that this was a myth.

As well as Penelope’s book, I’ve also spoken to the owner of Propagansey who is extremely knowledgable about Ganseys.

If you think about the Gansey in a more realistic way, since patterns were not written down at the time, the pattern was passed down through family, as the family married the pattern spread through the village. It wasn’t an identification system, just a local pattern being taught through family generations.

But it’s a nice story.

I also found out that a black Gansey represented death, so was not a good idea to make whereas White meant you’ve been married less than 5 years.

A few years ago I went to the in the loop conference and listened to Annemor Sundbø (https://annemor.com/english/) who studies traditional Norwegian jumpers. A lot of the styles have a similarity to the Gansey in that the bottom half of the pattern is different to the top half.

These jumpers have a black and white pattern on the top half and a plain white non patterned bottom half. Annemor suggested it was simply that white wool was less expensive than black wool and since the men tucked the jumpers into their trousers is was a way of using cheaper wool for parts of the jumper not seen.

A bit like how my mum used to only iron the front of my dad’s shirts because when he wore his jacket no one saw the un-ironed back!

Could this be why some Ganseys are plain on the bottom half? Why put all that effort into the part of the jumper not seen?

I also still have a family mystery to solve!

Some time ago I found an image in a book, The boats of the Somerset levels by Mike Smylie, I have very little information on my dad’s family so anything helps.

The image shows my granddad, beside the river on Salmon parade in Bridgwater, Somerset. He was a salmon fisherman and the last in a line of boat builders.

I’ve also found this painting on Bridgwater’s council website. Somewhere I remember reading the painting dated 1902 and shows Pocock boat business on the river, the white cottages on the right of the river were where dad’s family lived.

And that is all I have to prove that my dad’s family existed!

I was interested in the fishing net used by William Pocock and had searched the internet for information but found only one similar item in a museum in America!

https://www.amnh.org/exhibitions/permanent-exhibitions/human-origins-and-cultural-halls/northwest-coast-hall/tlingit/tlingit-collection/fishing-and-hunting/scoop-net-of-whale-sinew

I showed the image to the people at the heritage centre, but they’ve never seen one like the one in my grandads image.

So I’ve emailed the museum in America and the Blake museum in Bridgwater to see if they have any information.

Why? Because despite my lack of woodworking skills I’ve been trying to make a miniature version of the net!

And so, with miniatures in mind, I’ve a few last images.

I’m making a doll to represent the terrible knitters of Dent, terrible as in, they were terribly good at knitting!

With a knitting gauge of 5 stitches per centimetre and 1.5mm needles I set myself up in the hotel coffee lounge to set about making a version on the Dent gloves.

There is a good book about dales knitters, recently republished by Penelope Hemingway (https://theknittinggenie.com) which includes a pattern for some Dent gloves.

This image of a pair of Dent gloves comes from her blog page and is the pair I took a bit of free licence with!

I didn’t manage the fringe at the bottom, although… nah! Too fiddly.

I managed a date, which took up a lot of space and some of the pattern. The plan was to make mittens, thinking it would just be crazy to attempt gloves, but as I reached that part of the gloves I thought what the hell!

I also only made 1 glove since I wanted the doll to be midway knitting the second one, although I might just make the second one.

So finally… without further ado… my version of the Dent gloves…

Wednesday 18th April

I’ve two dolls finished so far, many more to do.

I took them to a meeting this morning at the request of a friend who wanted to see them in person.

The question came up about making and selling dolls. I’ve long believed, as many crafters do, that people don’t want to pay for the time it takes to hand make items. My dolls can take up to 3 days to make, that’s 3 days non stop. Even at minimum wage the dolls would be out of the price range of most folk.

I also believe that the fun in doll making would soon disappear if I had to make dolls constantly. It’s something I enjoy, but I could go insane if I had to make them day in, day out!

Plus I’d miss the fun of hearing from people trying to make their own doll. I sell the doll pattern on Etsy and Ravelry (search for my little crochet doll), it’s not the cheapest doll pattern, but my website (www.bettyvirago.com) and Ravelry have several free outfit patterns for additional outfits.

I enjoy sharing the techniques of doll making and even though not every doll made is the same as mine, they’re all lovely.

The dolls are based around Yorkshire people, so another part of my research has been drawing people in public. That’s quite an achievement for me, since I’m a little shy at getting out my drawing book in public!

Today I found an Italian cafe opposite a very busy bus stop and spent some time drawing people waiting for the bus. It gave me a little bit longer than I’ve usually had when I’ve been trying to catch passers by.

One guy took my attention partly because of how he was standing.

Legs wide apart, arms in pockets, shoulder length shaggy hair. Knee length boots and trousers, no not trousers. What are they called? They stopped at the top of his boots.

He wore a flat cap on his head. It got me thinking. For him, the flat cap was a fashion statement. I noted that it was like the gentrification of the working mans clothing. Making the poor look fashionable.

This evening I spent some time on YouTube, looking at how other people draw and paint people. I found this interesting video on drawing people in different perspectives.

Drawing people

Tonight was also my weekly knitting group. I knitted the skirt for my third doll, the knitter, then measured it against a doll only to find it was too tight and I had to start knitting it all over again. Skirt done, but so much more to do if I’m going to have the number of dolls that I’d like.

I’m heading to Scarborough this weekend to take photos of the fisherman doll ‘on location’. Each doll will have a charity or business that they represent, I’m hoping it will highlight some of the smaller, lesser advertised places on the map.

I’m wanting to link the fisherman to the Scarborough Maritime heritage centre.

My Final Project

My final project (I mean my final Uni project, I’m not quitting!) is based around doll making. I’ve been a doll collector and maker for years, but I wanted my final project to push my doll making and make something that celebrates another love of mine, traditional craftmaking.

I want to create a series of dolls, using materials which are as natural and locally sourced as possible. Each dolls character will take on a craft or career and will be linked to a small business or charity that promotes the craft.

Hmmm, am I explaining this right?

An example;

Here is William, a fisherman. He’s the first doll of a possible 8.

I used the My Little Crochet Doll pattern that’s on Etsy, it’s a pattern that I wrote several years ago, so the pattern is mine.

The first problem came straight away when I realised how difficult it was to find wool in flesh colours. Sure, I can get it in acrylic, but I wanted natural materials and the benefits of using wool over acrylic is huge.

I spent quite some time figuring out the dyes to use and searching for a yarn that used British wool and is fully produced in Yorkshire. Despite Yorkshire and Britain once being a huge manufacturer of wool, the majority of British wool is now sent abroad to be spun. I’ve even heard of people shipping the fleece abroad to be spun then shipping it back to the UK to be finished, imagine the carbon footprint!

So using a wool that’s a British sheep was quite easy, but finding a local producer, not so much.

I managed it though and am using a DK yarn made from the fleece of Cheviot sheep. It’s a hard wearing wool from a mountain sheep so will make a doll that’s hard wearing and long lasting.

I considered other breeds, Merino is soft, but not a traditional British sheep and I wanted to showcase British wool. I also looked at Bluefaced Leicester, a favourite fleece. It produces a lovely soft wool, but more expensive and that was also a consideration.

I’d like to bridge that gap in the market by selling flesh coloured wool that I hand dye. Because I’m using British wool and hand dyeing in small quantities it’ll be a quality product. But I also am a campaigner against poverty and can’t justify having a product that’s too expensive. Anyway, the Cheviot wool is still a lovely wool and not at all scratchy or harsh.

Anyway, I managed to dye the yarn. I’m keeping how I did that a secret though, sorry!

The doll is stuffed with British Lambswool, again I could have used acrylic, but the evidence for using pure wool in soft dolls, well non-flammable, takes on the body temperature of the child, wicks away moisture and many more.

So far I’ve got 6 skin tones, I’ve some more to try before I decide on final colours.

My dolls have a wire, pipe cleaner armature to allow them to pose their arms. Thankfully I found a local factory that’s been making pipe cleaners for over 100 years. They’re a small, local, family run business which is just perfect.

So with the mill, the dyer (who’s also a small local dye producer) and the pipe cleaners that’s three small businesses that have benefitted from the dolls so far.

The original pattern has a coloured scalp, but I wanted to change things a little, so I needle felted hair and eyes onto each doll.

As for the clothes I’m using a mixture of hand dyed Cheviot wool and a commercially produced yarn from West Yorkshire spinners, again a small local mill.

I wanted to show off the colour options of wool so the clothes are made from West Yorkshire Spinners new yarn called Illustrious. It’s a blend of Falkland wool and British Alpaca. Those who know me, will know my objection to using British Alpaca (I believe you should buy Alpaca from Peru, not Britain!) but this brand of wool comes in the largest variety of natural shades, which is what I wanted, so I’m compromising a little.

Each doll outfit has one item that’s dyed a different colour. So the fisherman has natural coloured trousers, boots, and underwear (all dolls should have underwear), but his jumper and hat is hand dyed.

This helped make the skin tone less ‘obvious’, without it the doll looked almost monotone, but the skin colour showed up, glaring at me. The one coloured item softened this out.

Anyway, that’s my project in a nutshell really.

It’d be nice to know what people think, especially about the plan to sell the dyed wool.

Finding your Social mission

Why do you do what you do?

What makes you tick? What is at the very heart of your passion?

These are the questions I’ve been asking in order to find my Social Mission, the deepest Why? Of my business.

Keep asking “Why?”

Recently I was told if I want to get to the root of why I’m here I need to keep asking Why?

I’m looking at a business where my profits go towards running craft and art classes for homeless people

Why?

Because I want to build confidence in homeless people

Why?

Because I don’t think they see their value. I don’t think others see that they have a value.

Why?

Because living on the streets makes you feel worthless

(Some Whys can be more specific – you might need a critical friend for this)

Why homeless people?

Because everyone else has something of their own

(If you hit a wall try backtracking)

Why art and craft?

Because it’s what I know…

…because everyone can draw or make something…

Why?

Because people appreciate art & crafts
When you’ve been beaten down its hard to accept love for yourself, it’s easier to accept appreciation for what you do rather than who you are.

Maybe learning to be appreciated for what you make is the first step towards accepting appreciation for who you are. 

Why is it important to accept appreciation?

Because maybe, if you can accept that others love and appreciate you, the next step is loving and appreciating yourself.

Why is that important?

Because, can we really change for the better if we don’t love ourselves?

Because I know what damage hating yourself can do.

I believe change comes from a belief in self worth.

I believe that art & crafts can be learnt by everyone.

I believe that creating space for arts and crafts can be the starting point.

In my own situation, life started to change when I met people who believed in me, but it was only when I learned to believe in myself that life changed permanently.

I believe if I can create an art space where everyone is accepted then lives can begin to change.

If I can show people who feel worthless, their value, I can begin to turn the tide of lives wasted.

If I can begin to change a few lives, we can change the world.