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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Friday 20th April 2018

I’m in Scarborough hoping to get some good photos of the fisherman doll that I can use for a display. I think I’ve got some good images, but I’m using my ‘proper’ camera so have to wait till I get home to see them properly.

I’m staying at the Grand hotel, which is one of those big hotels on the cliff that you look at as a child and imagine what it must be like to be rich enough to stay there. Turns out it’s not that expensive. I was a bit early for booking in so I sat on some benches watching the ocean (which wasn’t doing much). There was a couple on a bench that I thought made a nice image, they were squashed to one side and he had his arm around her.

Later I went along the harbour and posed the doll against some nets.

Tomorrow I’m visiting the marine heritage centre. I didn’t think I’d have the photos done tonight, so I’ve got some spare time which I’m going to spend drawing. Going to try and overcome the worry of painting in public!

I’m not sure how best to use the images I get of the dolls. It all comes into the thinking of how I’m going to display them. I’ve an old set of step ladders at home, only short ones, but they’re covered in slashes of paint. My thinking is to use that as the main display to stand the dolls onto.

The well used steps might add to the character of craftsmen that the dolls portray. I was thinking of adding the sketches I’ve done to one big piece and printing it off as a backdrop of Yorkshire Folk, perhaps I could print it onto fabric.

As with each dolls patterns I’m almost tempted not to write the patterns down, but describe how I made the doll instead. I don’t know and would appreciate hearing whether people want the pattern… the doll pattern and most of the clothes of course is already available online, but items like the Gansey are not yet published.

Should I keep these dolls as only made by me, or share with everyone?

I also have to write a 50 word description of my project. What do I go with?

Locally made? Bridging a gap in the market? Celebrating forgotten crafts? Lost crafts?

There’s so many parts to this I don’t know which to choose.

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.

Worth and Value – ERIBÉ

How much is a Jumper worth?

Primark Autumn/Winter 2015 collection have this rather nice Aran knit for £10. They don’t say what it’s made from but I’m guessing acrylic, probably made on a machine in a factory paying at the most minimum wage. For those buying it, I expect, it’ll end up worn for a short while and end up in a charity shop for the start of summer.

Yeah, I suppose, from a distance no one knows it’s acrylic, and some might even imagine a relative with Irish ancestry knitting a traditional Aran just for their favourite niece or grandaughter. Maybe.

I recently heard a talk from Rosemary Eribe who runs a knitwear company in Scotland. Her jumpers start at £175 and I suppose when you have to choose between a £10 and £175 jumper most people would sit firmly on one or the other sides of the fence.

For most it comes down to cost, and as someone who has spent the last couple years looking at and speaking about poverty I can hardly gripe at someone who feels £10 is a lot of money.

But here’s a thought, how long will the acrylic jumper last? It’s designed for one season, and recently I’ve found myself sewing up seams for a neighbour who’s a bit partial to cheap clothing. Thankfully my neighbour has me next door who doesn’t mind sewing up a sweater seam (it’s always the seams). But for those who don’t live near by you could be paying another £10 to get that repair done.

Then there’s the concience cost, as a person who’s experienced poverty I don’t like the idea that I’m climbing out of the pit by standing on the shoulders of someone else. You couldn’t even buy the acrylic wool to make a jumper for under a tenner, so somewhere, something is being cut.

Actually, how many sweaters do you need? I don’t have any, I have a couple hoodies, still being a bit of a tomboy I guess. I’d like one, but I just haven’t found the one I want yet. Yep, I’d like one. Not a cupboard full, just one. I’d rather save and buy one perfect jumper than pay for a sweater every few months that will get thinner with every wash, isn’t insulated, so not warm in winter (which defies the point of one) and will last for a few years at least.

Eribe sell hand knitted items, yep hand knitted, by Scottish knitters. A bit like the shreddies knitting nanas, but real. I like machine knitting (most of my degree seems to be on machine knitting) but there’s no comparison to a hand knitted jumper.

I was in a class at Uni last year talking to a tutor about quality. I’m assuming the tutor isn’t a wool worker because she asked why I wouldn’t consider acrylic as a quality yarn. I gave no answer, where would I begin?

Wool is a hollow fibre, which traps air keeping you warm. It has an amazing abilies listed in great detail on the Woolmark page. Words like Natural, warm and cool, odourfree, biodegradable, stain-resistant, static-resistant, breathable, soft and renewable all come to mind.

You can have your £10 acrylic, that is man-made, doesn’t wick sweat away, doesn’t keep you warm… in other words doesn’t do the job a sweater is made to do. Or you can invest in a traditionally made, pure wool, UK made jumper that will last far longer than a one season fad.

But here’s the other reason to consider jumping from the cheap side. Tradition.

I’ve been considering my jumper for a while (I spent less time choosing my tattoo) I want a gansey sweater, you can get these knitted for you in Whitby for a reasonable cost. Y’see, my dad’s family were fishermen, and a gansey becomes a link to my heritage.

The patterns on ganseys and arans were local to the place you came from, and I want to choose a pattern that links my family and me. I want a heritage sweater that says I’m from fishermen stock, I have salmon fishing in my blood, but I also come from a Christian family, so I want to include a pattern that recognises that part of my life. That’s what these patterns did, they told stories.

I want my jumper to be more than “that’s what we’re wearing in 2015” but a story of a family, a heritage. Suddenly £175 doesn’t seem all that much (and lets be honest, a tattoo often costs much more).

Of course, for those who still think the price is far too high, you can always take up knitting and make your own. That’s what I might end up doing, I’ve been spinning a lot of Bluefaced Leicester recently in a blend of natural sheep colours.