Posted on 1 Comment

Quilting without machinery

Looking at quilting videos these days can put you off crafting I think!

There’s been a lot of advances in technology recently with sewing machines having longer arms and quilting frames and well, all sorts of wonderful magical equipment.

If you’re looking at getting into quilting you might come across a video like this…

Then you might start looking online for the equipment you’d need to start quilting and, well then you’d need a sit down and a cup of tea.

I’m all for innovation in crafting, but we should never put aside the traditional methods.

So in September I’m starting a series of hand quilting workshops at my local Hobbycraft store.

Six weeks of trying out different quilting and patchwork techniques and not a machine or expensive piece of equipment in sight.

I’ll bring all the tools you need and some fabric, but people might be wanting to chose a £7 bundle of fat quarters in their own colour choice from Hobbycraft.

You don’t need to buy large rulers or fabric scissors, I’ll bring needles and thread but I’ll be happy to show people around the sewing department to show them what they can buy if they want to take their quilting further.

We’ll not be making any huge bed quilts, but we’ll be making practical things like pin cushions, needle books and trims. Items that are small enough to give you a taster of this amazing craft but enough to let you know if you want to go further into the craft.

Now I know many of my blog followers are not local (many not even in the UK) but I’m sure you’ll agree that sometimes people can be put off trying a craft skill because of the cost of equipment.

Recently a company launched a home knitting machine similar to the extremely expensive industrial machines we had at university. The machine is a full garment machine, meaning it makes the whole garment for you. No sewing, no fitting pieces together. You tell it to make a jumper and a jumper pops out the bottom.

Like the quilting machines it’ll set you back a few grand.

I can imagine now the folk who think they’ll just quit their day job and set up a knitting machine business printing jumpers and selling them at craft fairs.

Hmm reasons why this isn’t a great idea is perhaps a whole other blog post, easy money and crafts doesn’t really go together. But I can imagine some folk looking into this as a great money maker.

I think the machine looks great and if I had the money and space I just might be tempted, but honestly, I worry about this push for modern technology in crafting. If you are a modern crafter and everything you use is plugged in, why not find a class local to you and have a back to basics session, head back into the slow pace of crafting for peace rather than crafting for fast profit. (Moan over)

If, you are local, here’s the advert for the hand quilting and patchwork classes.

Posted on Leave a comment

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.

coal008b.jpg

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.

coal020b.jpg

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.

 

Posted on Leave a comment

Quilt Kits for sale

I’ve finally finished the first kits for the quilt squares.

The kits contain almost everything you need to make two squares for the first Quilt of Hope.

Contents:

Instructions

Two x 6×6 inch cotton squares

One smaller cotton square (for a heart)

A piece of heat and bond

Four metres of embroidery thread in 4 colours

A needle

A pack of embellishments (buttons, ribbon etc)

I’m selling them for £10, which covers the cost of UK postage and the kit, any proceeds from these kits will go towards the other things we’ll need for a quilt.

If you want to buy one you can buy one online from my Etsy shop, click on the link below to go straight there.

https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/470923438/quilts-of-hope-square-kit?ref=shop_home_active_1

Once you’ve made the squares you can keep them or send them back to us to be sewn into the quilt.

Our first quilt is going to be for the Joanna Project (www.joannaproject.co.uk) which supports women working in our red light district.

If anyone is around Leeds on Saturday and wants to meet and try the kits we’ll be meeting in Chapel Allerton Saturday, everyone is welcome and we’ll be able to talk about best times and locations to meet and sew.

Posted on 1 Comment

The Quilts of Hope Project

There is something special about blankets.

Whether this is the silver blankets handed out to marathon runners after the race,

sb.JPG

Or used to provide emergency heat to survivors and vulnerable people.

Mis--N3-2015-10-19.jpg

The thick wool blankets handed out in winter,

Unknown.jpeg

or the blankets with arms we use to watch TV.

ghi008_snug_rug_pink_300cream.jpg

There is just something magical in how a large piece of fabric can comfort us, warm us and make us feel safe.

I remember staying with my Aunty and Uncle as a child and becoming ill. Being ‘put to bed’ on the sofa and having a blanket wrapped around me. Being tucked in and feeling that, no matter how much I hurt, everything would be ok.

That’s the magic of blankets, duvets, coverings and quilts.

The Quilts of Hope project will bring communities together to make quilts filled with hope and love to vulnerable people.

We’re starting with a simple quilt of squares

WP_20161004_009.jpg

If you already know how to embroider you can make a cotton square with a positive quote or something more elaborate. The squares can be 5.5″ x 5.5″ or 10.5″ x 10.5″, we ask that when you make the square you think or pray for the people this quilt might help.

Then send the squares to us at:

Betty Virago

45 West Grange Road, Leeds, West Yorkshire, LS10 3AP

If you don’t yet know what to do we will soon be selling kits to make your square and using the money we raise to pay for the materials we need to finish the quilts.

email Betty at bettyvirago@gmail.com so we can tell you when the kits are ready.

We’ll be making some video tutorials as well, so there’s no excuses.

If you’re near Leeds you can join us for the magical part of quilt making when we all gather to hand sew the quilt. These are special events where we gather, pray, sing songs and talk together, and remember the people who might use the quilt.

Then when the quilt is finished we present it to a charity, to be used to warm, comfort and bless people in times of distress.

Our first quilt is going to the Joanna Project in Leeds who work with women in the red light area. Read more about that project at www.joannaproject.co.uk

But perhaps you know of a charity or group that would benefit from a quilt?

Email us and let us know.

 

 

Posted on 6 Comments

The price of a coffee

Today, in the Salvation Army we observe Human Trafficking Sunday. It’s a day when, as a whole church we talk about and pray about human trafficking.

It’s one of those difficult Sundays for me, with all my openness about homelessness and poverty, there are still some things I don’t talk about. I sit through these services and listen to people talk about trafficking. Some are talking as volunteers for the Army and how they work with the police and move rescued people to safe locations. Others talk from fact sheets and show videos on slavery, while others read prayers written by some church member in the London office.

When we, as a church, talk about trafficking its about people from other countries, brought here with hope of work and travel, promised the world and yet stuck in an inescapable prison. Human Trafficking is the illegal movement of people, typically with the aim of forced labour or sexual exploitation. You think it can’t happen to nice people, that it must be only the desperately poor and vulnerable families that this kind of thing happens to, but it happens to nice families, educated women, men with learning difficulties and people from the UK.

I don’t know what it’s like to be taken from this country with the hope of an adventure and a job, to be caught by a scam that leaves me trapped in a country I do not know. Where I don’t know the language, or the culture, or the law. Where I don’t know the difference between the people who can help and the people who are trapping me further.

But I know what it’s like to be imprisoned, to have no escape. To have no choice in who you sleep with and know the beating a refusal can bring. This Salvation Army officers daughter, who attended church every Sunday, did ok in school and didn’t really get into trouble knows the despair and devastation of having no hope.

My church is a short walk from the red light area, where women charge the price of a basic restaurant meal for sex, but where I’ve heard of some women, those who don’t know the language or the UK currency charge the price of a coffee, not through choice, but because the man who owns her values her life as nothing.

The rest of today I spent with a heavy heart. 

William Booth once talked of a vision of the lost, this video is a little bit corny, but it tells the vision…

https://youtu.be/ky0DDwYzak8  

I grew up believing that you are saved to serve, you became free and instead of running you turn around to help free someone else. 

I’ve been feeling a little lost recently, the setting up my business thing is going great, I’m not struggling to survive like I was a few months ago, but something is off-kilter. I think, for the first time in years I am not doing something for the benefit of others.

Before university I volunteered for the joanna project, before that I volunteered for Inkwell Arts, before that I worked for The Salvation Army… during my whole non-messed up life I have spent part of it benefiting others and now my whole life is about me. And it hurts.

This evening, after church, I found myself in a cafe having a text message conversation with a friend, and I realised the problem. I need to do something for others, it’s what keeps me functioning, it’s one of the things that keeps me turning up to the Army every week, this need to be in a church that thrives on serving others. It’s what keeps me valuing my own freedom.

In my first year at University I came up with an idea for a quilt of hope. It was a simple idea of a handmade quilt that contained little messages of hope within the squares. I was thinking of the women who come to the joanna project house. Some of the women have been so demoralised, so inhumanised, that the thought of being hugged is too much. My idea was to make a quilted blanket that a woman can wrap herself in. Filled with messages and prayers from people who are praying for her, even though they might never meet her. 

It was a nice idea and one I somehow keep coming back to.

Then at the end of last year we had a project handmaking a quilt. I spent several hours sat around a simple wooden frame, hand-stitching a simple pattern into a quilt with a small group of young students. There was something magical about it. Something disarming about the simple stitch and our heads bowed looking at the quilt that allowed people to open up in a way two years of uni had never done. In those hours I became to understand my fellow students, to learn fears and experiences they normally wouldn’t share. 

I later thought again of the deep communication that group quilting created and imagined what it would be like to have a quilting group in church, where we made banners and quilts as a group, sharing with fellow Christians and non-Christians.

Tonight again, as I text messaged my friend I thought of my quilting ideas, my need to be doing something for others and decided it might be time to think seriously about the quilt project.

There are things to work out, things to organise, I need a place we could meet and sew, I need materials, but most importantly, I need volunteers.

In January I appealed for people to stand with me for Daria, and again I’m asking for help. I want to make a quilt of hope, first for the Joanna project, then perhaps quilts of hope for the Salvation Army human trafficking unit. To be used by those who need to be wrapped in arms of love, hope and prayers, but are too fragile to allow human touch.

I’m going to be putting together simple sewing kits (It might take me a little while to make them) which I will sell to raise money for the materials, but the kits will be the squares to make the quilt. I’m hoping people will buy a kit, sew a simple (or detailed) message or image of hope and send them back to be included in the quilt.

But I’m also looking for local people, folks who live in Leeds or close enough to meet regularly to make the quilt. Experience not needed, but just a love for others.

If that’s you, then get in touch. My email is bettyvirago@gmail.com. If you need some more convincing, here’s a video of the Salvation Army’s human trafficking unit at work.

Posted on 1 Comment

The Price of a Coffee

There’s a scene in the film Schindler’s list, where freedom is in sight for the Jewish people but Oskar Schindler is having to flee. He looks around at the mass of people he helped keep alive and no one would complain if he then surveyed the survivors and shouted at how great it is that so many survived.

Instead he looks at what he still has, the ring made by hidden bits of gold fillings, his car to help him escape… How many more people’s freedom could he have bought? It’s the part of the movie that always gets to me. That realisation that how ever much you have given, you might have been able to give that little bit more. As a Salvationist it’s something that drives me:

“While women weep, as they do now,

I’ll fight

While little children go hungry, as they do now, 

I’ll fight

While men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, 

I’ll fight

While there is a drunkard left, 

While there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, 

While there remains one dark soul without the light of God, 

I’ll fight-I’ll fight to the very end!”

― William Booth

There are some people who know the value of a life and put themselves in a position to do the most good. Oskar could’ve sold his car, but that lavish lifestyle helped get him into places where he could do the most good. Would he have been able to get into the nazi regime if he had turned up on shanks’ pony? If he turned up to a party asking to buy human beings but only bringing cheap wine, would he have got through the door?

I have been lucky enough to experience poverty and to be around people who know how the price of a coffee for some, could mean the difference between an evening meal or a night of hunger. I’ve met women selling their bodies to unknown men in darkened cars so they can put £10 on their electricity meter, and although the going rate for sex in Leeds is a little higher (sorry to be blunt, but sometimes you just shouldn’t mince your words), each time I go into a costa coffee shop I’m reminded of the women I met who charged less than the price of my coffee.

Lucky? Yeah, it’s strange to think of it as luck. A privilege maybe to know real survivors and real strong women, yes, most definitely.

A lot of my ideas and university projects are based around charity projects, mittens for women who work in the cold, craft classes that are cheap enough for all, knitting groups in places that don’t expect you to pay a fortune for a drink.

I know how many people in poverty don’t have the luxury of a wide screen TV and SKY (despite the myth that we all do) I read the studies that show how knitting and crafts can help boost confidence and keep depression at bay, but I also know how the hidden extras of attending a craft group can keep some from benefiting. 

Our latest project at Uni is a craft project. We’re making a quilt by hand, learning the techniques of making and producing a one of a kind item. Two quilt groups, two single quilts.

We asked what is going to happen with the quilts at the end of the project and were told they would be given to a local charity for a family in need. Two quilts to help two families.

Sounds wonderful.

And yet… Something bothers me.

I’ve seen before where something is given to charity with conditions, or in some cases, no conditions but the wrong gift.

  
Recently I heard a story from members of the guild for Weavers, Spinners and Dyers.

They had a community project where they made knitted squares that were sewn together to make dressing gowns. The idea being that they would keep someone warm over winter when they couldn’t afford heating.

This might be the charity they gave them to.

Cosy at Christmas

Nothing wrong with the idea I suppose, not my cup of tea. I’d rather keep warm with heating or in something a bit less colourful, but the thought is certainly there.

The story I heard was that members of the guild were becoming increasingly worried about the squares they were knitting. Would a person in poverty know how to wash their hand spun, hand knitted luxury squares? Would a poor person know how to wash delicates?

I pointed out to the people worrying that the chances of the person having the means to wash the dressing gown was more of a worry than whether they would damage all their hard work.

It’s not just that many people in poverty don’t have a washing machine, nor is it the lack of laundromats in poorer areas, the simple choice of fitting one bulky gown over several everyday items of clothing into the machine means they might never get washed. At a fiver a load, washing clothing becomes a choice of what is needed most.

There is another niggle I have about choosing what to give. I know many people don’t give cash to people begging on the streets and I see the logic in donating that money to a charity instead, each to their own in that respect. As long as you really do give to the charity instead!

It’s the giving situations where choice is denied the receiver. Those times when you decide to buy the guy a coffee instead of giving cash, but don’t ask first whether the guy even likes coffee, never mind if he even wants one.

The ever recurring rumour that the government will give people on benefits cards to shop in certain places instead of allowing them the choice to spend the benefit money where they want (yep, I know it allows people to spend their benefit on things you might not approve of, I’m sure some of you’ve spend money on things I don’t approve of) So what if some of my benefit money is spend on wool, it keeps depression at bay, has got me into University, and put me in the positive mood to write this blog that you so enjoy.

It’s the removing of choice I disagree with. The idea that because you are poor, your choices cannot be trusted. The feeling of despair you feel when you have so little, and then even the freedom to choose is removed from you.

And that, kind of brings me back to the quilt.

It’s a lovely gesture, hand sewing a quilt, putting hours of love into the project, imagining the faces of those little poor kids who can’t wait to sleep under their quilt. Won’t they be so grateful, so appreciative, won’t they just love me all the more for it, won’t I be treasured in their minds with every warm sleep they get because someone hand sewed a quilt for them. And won’t I get such a warm fuzzy feeling in my giving. Won’t I sleep so soundly under my 15 tog duvet with freshly laundered cover knowing that somewhere in town is a little child sleeping under my thin hand sewn quilt.

And suddenly it no longer becomes about helping a family, but about how grateful they should be and how fuzzy my feelings will be.

I challenged this idea, suggesting an alternative. What if the charity were allowed to sell the quilt, maybe they’d get £100, maybe £10, but what if that quilt could help 2 people? Two quilts, four families helped? Two quilts, twenty families helped?

A quick look on Asda gave me this information:

http://direct.asda.com/george/home-garden/duvets/D26M04G04C14,default,sc.html#http://direct.asda.com/george/home-garden/duvets/D26M04G04C14,default,sc.html?srule=g_price_asc&start=0&sz=20

£7 – single size summer duvet

£15 – Slumberdown 13.5 tog duvet and pillow set.

  
Hand sewn traditional quilts are lovely, don’t get me wrong. I’d love someone to make me one, but it would just be decoration. The quilts at Uni are filled with the thinnest stuffing available and small, they just fit a single bed. You couldn’t wrap up warm in one. 

It wouldn’t replace the softness of a cheap duvet, and it can’t be changed with a new cover as often as the £7 Asda duvet. Who’d pay me £14 for a hand made single duvet? (I’m imagining hands shooting up) Two children will benefit if you do, what about £21 (three children) how many children do you want to keep warm? 

Sadly, I’m in the minority. One family is going to receive our quilt, I hope they like it, maybe they’ll spread it across their knees while watching the wide screen TV they don’t have, maybe they’ll spread it on the floor as a rug. Our quilt group has chosen what will happen to it, we now have to choose which charity is given it.

I have another suggestion, what if every student in the quilt group took the finished quilt home for one night. What if they turned off their heating, removed their duvet and spent the night under the quilt, then decided whether it would benefit a family.

What if I took them on a day trip, I could show them the family who live on my street, no wallpaper, little furniture and bits of scrap carpet for walking on. Four people living in a one roomed flat, a teenager and his little sister sleeping night after night on the sofa (year after year!), mum and grandmother sharing the only bed. What if the students were allowed to go to their little flat and hand the quilt over, sure the fuzzy feeling would be overwhelming, and my neighbours would be grateful, oh my, they would be so grateful. What if, when walking out of the flat I pointed to another flat, same situation. What about them? Two quilts… How many families?