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And now the real work begins…

I know.

I haven’t posted in a while.

It’s been a crazy few weeks, but oh so wonderful!

On Thursday I finally get to wear that cap and gown I’ve worked so hard for, my degree finished. I’ve still got library books to hand in (typical) and being so last minute I still don’t know what time I have to be at the university. But I’m a few days away from not being a full time student.

Here’s a wee photo of my final project (and me).

As well as the degree I won an award…

And I was one of 11 students chosen to take my exhibition to London to the New Designers show

I met some people with potential opportunities and, well, it’s all been a crazy busy few weeks.

And then it all stopped.

Now I have to earn a living. I’ve applied for a couple of part time jobs to keep the money coming in, and the little I have left after exhibiting in London I’m putting into adding a shop onto this website, so excuse the next few weeks as I try out various looks and slowly add items, I’m still trying to figure out how to add postage to the listings.

Have a gander at the shop, let me know what you like and what you don’t like. Give me a few suggestions if you have them. And wish me luck trying to make it in the real world!

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Wool vs Acrylic

For years I’ve been making dolls out of Acrylic yarn and I’m sure many of us have. Doll and toy making was traditionally done using the scraps and left over yarns we had left over from our precious makes.

It made sense to use cheap yarn for a doll.

Last year I began experimenting with wool for doll making, then with my final uni project I decided to make these dolls using only natural materials. There was one test I wanted to do to compare Acrylic to Wool, but it meant making and destroying two dolls, plus although in theory I knew what they said about the results I wasn’t sure. Today I did the test… I’m shocked!

Anyway before that test, here are some reasons to use wool in doll making over acrylic…

  1. Natural. Wool is completely natural, sheep eats grass – sheep grows wool – sheep is warm in winter – we cut wool – sheep feels cool in Summer – we use wool – sheep eats grass – and so on and so on. No chemists or scientists involved.
  2. Biodegradable. Prince Charles did a similar experiment to mine, but he also tested how quickly wool would disappear back into the earth. He buried two jumpers, one wool, one synthetic. Six months later he dug them up. The synthetic jumper was intact, but the wool jumper had disappeared. In this plastic heavy world, this should be reason enough.
  3. Renewable. Like being a natural source, wool is also renewable. The sheep doesn’t just have one coat, but a continuously growing fleece.
  4. Breathable. Wool wicks moisture away from the skin making your body less clammy. Ok, so it might not make that much difference to doll making, unless you’re a little kid who takes the doll to bed with them. Nothing worse than waking up with sweat sticking a doll to your face.
  5.  Keeps you warm… or cool. Wool keeps you warm when you’re cold and cools you when you’re too hot. Again, a nicer toy to hug at night than a plastic doll.
  6. Machine Washable. Yep, the yarn I use in my dolls is treated to be machine washable.
  7. Stain resistant. It has an outer layer that prevents stains from being absorbed and it’s anti-static properties mean a lot of dust and dirt simply don’t stick to it.
  8. Odour resistant. When it wicks away sweat, it also absorbs the molecules of odour.
  9. Better sleep. New research has shown sleeping with wool bedding or nightwear leads to a better nights sleep. Another reason to take the doll to bed with you.
  10. Healthy skin. Again, research is coming out that shows the benefits of softer wools on skin.

Finally, wool is flame resistant. What does that mean?

Watch this video…

www.youtube.com/watch?v=hrWRpTA54_4

Shocked?

One important message to come from my final project is the importance of making dolls and toys out of wool, but as I researched a wool to use I found little on offer. Ok, you can buy browns and pinks and mustards, but skin tones are not really covered by wool suppliers.

That’s one thing I’ve been looking at with my dolls and what to do after university, perhaps I could produce 100% British wool in skin tones for doll making, the video has shocked me enough to realise it’s got to be done.

See also:

 Woolmark – benefits of wool

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2016/09/02/how-prince-charles-set-fire-to-a-pile-of-jumpers-and-buried-othe/

Benefits of sleeping with wool

Benefits of wool on skin

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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

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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…

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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.

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Thursday 19 April 2018

I’m off to Scarborough tomorrow with the little fisherman doll.

Today was a busy day of packing and repacking because I always carry far more than I need with me.

I’ve been watching a lot of YouTube videos of travel sketchers and looking at a minimalistic approach to painting and drawing equipment.

I watched an online craftsy class by Katherine Ewing called Luminous Watercolour Mixing which uses a six colour palette. Three cool primary colours and three warm primary colours. Its a great palette for producing some brilliant bright colours, which all look great together.

I’ve also been looking at more figure painting videos on YouTube. So far all my drawings are similar, simple sketches with little or no colour. I’m hoping to try some different techniques on the beach!

I’ve finished two dolls so far, and am now working on the knitter, based on the terrible knitters of dent. I knitted a miniature shawl using 2.25mm circular needles, that’s what I’ve been knitting in church the last few weeks (yep, I Knit in church, but I’ve not yet been struck down!). I knitted the shawl in undyed lace weight wool and dyed it as a finished item. I also dyed some of the lace weight yarn black so I can make some miniature dales gloves.

The gloves are similar to Sanquhar gloves, which are knitted fine and take a long time. I’m lucky in that my eyesight, while not being able to recognise people across the room, is perfect for small close up work. I made a swatch to try and get the right needle size and settled on 1.50mm knitting needles (DPNs) the gauge is 5 stitches per centimetre. So now I just have to hand Knit a miniature pair of gloves, easy right?

However, since my dolls don’t have fingers I had to decide whether to go with tradition and make gloves (imagine the mini fingers) or to make something that would fit on the dolls hands. I’m thinking practicality over tradition, so I’m hoping to manage mittens.

It’s these little details that makes the plan of 8 dolls more unlikely. I woke up a few days ago thinking that perhaps I could make a folk musician complete with accordion! It was at that point that I decided I was my own worst enemy and my attention to detail would become the death of me.

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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.

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My Little Crochet Dolls Video Tutorials

Here is the full set of video tutorials for the My Little Crochet Dolls:

  1. Starting the head

2. Changing Colour

3. Adding Safety Eyes

4. Stuffing the head

5. Making the lower legs

6. Making the Ears and Nose

7. Upper legs and body

8. Making the arms

9. Sewing on the head

10. Painting the face

11. Adding the Iris

12. Adding the Pupil

13. Adding the Twinkle

14. Adding hair

15. Finishing the hair

 

Hope you enjoy them.