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.

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.

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.

A Bible study flag!

I’ve been looking at flags recently and the stories behind their creation.

At school we’re taught about our Union Jack flag and the joining of four countries in the symbolism (apparently the Welsh dragon, Yorkshire rose and Lancashire rose is just hidden from view!

The Salvation Army flag has significance in the trinity with the Yellow star being the fire of the Holy Spirit, the Red – the blood of Jesus and the blue – the purity of God.

One of my favourite flags is the Indian flag with the wheel in the centre. It’s was originally going to be a spinning wheel and hints at a time when we British were being idiots with someone else’s country and the wheel represented India breaking free and the fight over woven cloth, the story of Ghandhi spinning cloth as a protest is well worth a search and read.

Flags and banners are important pieces of fabric with meaning and pride behind them. 

I’ve been looking too at Tibetan prayer flags and think there is something in making a personal prayer flag or a series of flags. Each one with symbolic meaning, remembering a time of importance or pushing us towards a greater glory.

I sketch and doodle a lot, especially during sermons and lectures. It’s how I keep my mind focused. Recently I began showing some of the sketches to people and decided to take them a step further.

What if I turned these sketches, doodles and notes into textile flags, similar in size to a prayer flag?

Last week our church began a new Bible study titles Jesus at the centre. I went along and took my sketch book. This time, instead of simply doodling I would think about what I hear and try to put the message into a flag.

This is the result.

Part of me feels I shouldn’t explain it, people should ‘get it’ or not get it.

So I will simply explain how I made it.

It’s a piece of canvas, the type you use for tote bags.

I used Inktense sticks and water to paint the background, I saw something on YouTube about how the sticks can be used as a fabric paint if you iron it once dry.

In the centre I hand embroidered in gold thread the Hebrew word Yeshua, which is the Hebrew name for Jesus, this took quite a while and the gold thread was a wee bit difficult.

Since everyone says I have neat handwriting I hand painted descriptive words for emotions around the edge.

I painted a small piece of ribbon with the words Lord of All, a reference to something said during the study and sewed this in place.

Then I frayed the edges, stiffened the top and punched two eyelets so the flag can be hung on a wall or joined to another with ribbon.

As for the meaning, I suppose it means whatever you believe it means. Perhaps you recognise an emotion around the edge and recognise a need to hand it over. Or perhaps you recognise that Jesus came as a man and experienced all these emotions so He truly understands us. Perhaps you see something totally different and it’d be interesting if you wanted to share that in the comments.

Either way, I’m looking forward to the next Bible study.

The Elevator Pitch – EPY week 3

An elevator pitch is a short description of what your business is about, supposedly short enough to say in the time a lift goes to the next floor (because we all talk to people in lifts), well, maybe not, but we might meet someone who could help us along the journey only to find we don’t have time to go into the details but need to grab their attention.

This is actually quite a useful and important thing to have ready when you think about it. Our little business is something we put our heart and soul into it and we can sit for hours talking about the details and inspirations, but reality is, we don’t have business leaders getting their secretaries to phone us up and book an hours appointment at the local coffee shop to talk about my dreams. Reality is, we might actually be standing at the elevator when we realise the person standing next to me is that one investor or business person that could give me a helping hand along the way. We literally have a few sentences.

The Enterprise team have a simple template to follow for writing your pitch.

1. Who is behind the company? (What is the company Values?)

2. What is my product?

3. What are the key benefits?

4. Who is my market?

5. What is my competition and how do I differ?

One mind map later I was ready to start writing, and this is what I came up with…

Betty Virago is a traditional doll maker who provides dolls, doll making supplies and workshops to inspire the current and future generations of doll makers.

Unlike mass produced dolls that often come with unobtainable bodies and overly made up faces, our soft bodied natural looking dolls are made to look like the children who might own them.

Our materials, where possible, are locally sourced, keeping our carbon footprint as low as possible and our techniques blend both old and new skills to create dolls suitable for boys as well as girls.

Aren’t you pleased?

I think it’s quite a nice bit of writing, it says what I’m planning on doing, and yet…

I just couldn’t imagine my down-to-earth self speaking this well thought out worded speach to a friend, never mind a stranger. It feels rather cold, not at all something I’d want to listen to.

But what could I say?

What do I do?

I make dolls.

But saying I make dolls just kept bringing images of zombie boys “I like turtles” comment.

This is where I’m starting to see the value of a business plan. A document that forces me to consider every aspect of my business and forcing me to sit down and pull out all the ideas I’m used to keeping in my head and examine each one.

What do I want to do?

Make dolls and share doll making skills with others


Because there is just something magical in making a doll for someone over buying a mass produced doll.

There is something special in having a doll, made just for you, and something magical in the relationship between child and doll.

Now how do I put that into words?

I’ve never put much thought into a business plan before, I know what I want so why do I need to write it down? It’s all here in my head. the truth is, I’ve tried writing them, but I come to the money section and get stuck. How do I forecast my finances?

The elevator pitch might not be a word for word statement I pour out at any stranger I meet, but it has forced me to get the plan on paper. I know what I want, but keeping it just in my mind hasn’t done me any favours. Getting the plan down on paper, seeing it in black and white, and really thinking about it has shown me new places I can take my goals, and helped me cut back on the parts of the dream that just weren’t working.

Of the Cloth – My Uniform and Me

I seem to be heading into a series of posts called “of the cloth”. The idea of textiles in spirituality is interesting to me both as a textile student and a member of the Salvation Army. 

I feel I have a love/hate relationship with my church, but one that is certain, I don’t like the uniform. Never have.

I started by looking into the uniform, why we wear it, why we pay so much for it, what the Christian message behind it might be, but then I thought about other churches, then other beliefs. What is the relationship between a belief system and textiles?

I don’t mean wearing a hijab or a what a Mormon wears for underwear. Too much is said on that, but the precious textiles like altar cloths, ceremony robes, cloths to wrap text in, prayer mats. What makes a textile sacred?

I always knew that church windows contained pictures from a time when many people were illiterate, but didn’t know altar cloths and church textiles did the same, and in this multi-cultural world we live in, how valuable that is now to have textiles that tell local stories in a pictorial language we all understand.

Then I interviewed a member of my denomination who doesn’t wear a uniform and found an feeling of inequality I think the church would be embarrassed about. I have plans to interview people with different views, I want to see the whole picture. What turned a church uniform from a makeshift, logo on a shirt, handmade item into an look-a-like profit making scheme. What turned a play on the phrase war with the devil into a military style denomination we have today.

Of course I have always had my own opinion and my experience, that I planned to keep till the end. I wanted to get the rest of the stories written, But I started wondering whether I shouldn’t tell my story first. This is who I am, this is why I believe what I do. Many times through the telling of others stories I input from my experience, and perhaps understanding my own experience will help others understand that my strong feelings are not really just about a piece of cloth.

So here is my story, my relationship with my Salvation Army uniform.

My parents are retired now, but spent most of their lives as Salvation Army officers, managing men’s hostels in Yorkshire and Lancashire. I wore a church uniform from the age of seven and it was uncomfortable, I don’t remember being asked if I wanted to wear it, I don’t remember going to church without wearing it, and I don’t know why I wore it. Wearing it though did one thing… It allowed me to sing in the children’s choir and eventually play in the childrens band. I didn’t want to join the band, but my mother told me since all other children played in the band I wouldn’t make friends unless I did too, so I learned to play the cornet.

Later I started high school and uniform wearing became a full time job, Monday to Friday, school uniform, Sunday, Army uniform. Saturday’s at least I could wear what I wanted, but is one day a week enough to allow a child to develop their own sense of style? Their own tribal instinct of who they are? Our clothing often distinguishes our music and friend tastes and  perhaps my lack of ability to find my own style is why I became a goth.

Oh, how much I hate this photo. You can almost see right up my skirt.

As a young teenager I was told I could wear knee-high socks or tights on Sunday’s, but I wore ankle socks. Tights, to me, seem an unnecessary form of torture for women, similar to high heel shoes, which I never took to. If men spent a week wearing tights and heels they’d soon realise the pain from shoes and the frustration in trying to pull up tights in a tiny toilet cubicle. Maybe even scrap the wearing of skirts for women.

We had short church services in the hostel where we also lived (back then hostel managers lived in the hostel with their family, perhaps to give a family feeling to the residents). I sat there with my little uniform on amongst the homeless men and felt out of place, but worse, when my parents were shaking hands at the end of the service I was often approached by one man, a sexual predator, who told me how sexy I looked in my uniform. 

Yep, sexual abuse happened because I grew up in a Salvation Army men’s hostel. That was bad enough, but to have a church outfit that made me a sexual object at the age of 8 was vile, and it wasn’t just in the hostel. 

At 13 I had a friends dad who would grab my bum in church, I once turned and told him to “Fuck off” but he told me I shouldn’t speak like that because my parents were officers. If I wasn’t a shy abused kid I might have told him he shouldn’t be touching my arse, but I was unintentionally raised to believe the uniform is a sexual object, so I didn’t have a leg to stand on.

I was 20 when I started doing pubs, going from pub to pub selling the Army paper. Going into places that I’d grown up being told was a sin to enter, to get money from people doing something that was considered a sin. I had numerous hands feeling my legs, wondering whether I was wearing suspenders under my skirt. I felt as though I was being prostituted out in order to raise a few drunken donations all because we loved Jesus. Wolfwhistled at? If only it just stayed at a few whistles.

A few years later I was in a different situation, living in London, finding it hard to make friends, one friend offered me an alcoholic drink, I was young, naive, curious, I took a few sips, didn’t like it.

But oh, the shame. Alcohol was a sin. The Bible didn’t say so, but my Army upbringing did. I went to my local Salvation Army that Sunday, the one on Oxford street. During the service I broke down in tears. I talked to the assistant officer, a young minister just out of college. I say talked, but there wasn’t much conversation, no asking for a reason, no discussion. I was told I couldn’t wear my uniform anymore and that was it. Removed of my uniform like Mr Banks, a disgrace, not worthy of wearing the gang colours. 

The following Sunday I was approached by a church woman who asked if she could meet me to talk. She said she was an alcohol and drug counsellor, sent by the young minister to talk to me. One sip and I’m seen in need of counselling.

I never put on the uniform again, for several years.

When life really became tough I was working for the Slavation Army in Notting Hill. I went out one evening and was raped, I was told I wasn’t spiritual enough for the church and asked to leave. I became homeless. I went to Bible college, but the shame of being raped, of having the church tell me it had been my fault, that I wasn’t spiritual enough, that I should leave. Becoming homeless because my home came with my job. I started drinking. 

If only I could have gone to my church for help, but I knew what happened when I took one sip, what would happen when I told them I was sleeping on the streets, working as a prostitute, an alcoholic and drug user? There would be no help for someone like me.

Me, in 1997

Roll on twenty years, I’m back in Leeds. Doing fine, free from addictions for over 10 years and building my life again.

I go to a local Salvation Army in the centre of Leeds, I went here as a kid. I called it home but trouble never seems far from me. I’m called in to speak to the minister, someone (I’m never allowed to know who) reported me as a prostitute. Nope, not me, I haven’t worked like that for years. I work with prostitutes, but I don’t work as one of them. It happens again. No, still not me. Either tell the person to stop gossiping or tell me who it is.

The third time it comes with a throwaway, inside family joke. A printed Facebook page of a post from me, “I have now ‘acquired’ a uniform”. That’s the proof. How can someone on benefits afford a uniform? Surely this is proof that I’m up to no good. How else would I have a uniform.

I leave.

I have my uniform in the cupboard under the stairs. It hangs with other textiles from my life, my reflexology uniforms, my bikers jacket, clothing I might never wear again.

Every so often I get the uniform out and go to try it on, but the tears come. The pain of being forced to wear an outfit that still feels like I’m being made to sexualise myself for God. I’d never wear a skirt, yet in order to sing in the church choir, or take a role in the church leadership, or even play in the band is out of reach unless I return to that feeling of helplessness. That shameful place where men can look, call me sexy and feel my bum with no comeback from me, check for a suspended belt.

I still go to church (yep, a Salvation Army church) the people are lovely, but will I ever be fully accepted unless I lower myself to my dark past? The uniform isn’t something to aspire to for me. 

I have other questions about it too.

Why a church started for the poor now charges so much for the uniform of membership that the poor cannot join?

Why when the Bible speaks of instant forgiveness does the church then punish you further in a Mary Poppins style humiliation? As though saying, “Well, we know you’re sorry, and Jesus forgives you, but we just want to humiliate you for six months”.

In searching for the answers to spirituality and textiles I am also searching perhaps for my own peace, my own freedom from the failure the church did to me. So that now, as a church member who wants to be so much more, can one day put on some kind of outfit that makes me seen as an equal.

Of the Cloth – A conversation with an Adherent

My definition:

Adherent – a member of the Salvation Army who doesn’t wear a uniform
Soldier – a member of the Salvation Army who wears a uniform

What the Salvation Army website says:

‘While you do not have to be a member of The Salvation Army to attend worship meetings, or to receive practical help and support, there are two ways of making a commitment through the church.

Becoming a soldier – a member of a Salvation Army church – is a voluntary personal commitment arising from a personal spiritual conviction. 

Adherent members do not wear the uniform but are committed to The Salvation Army as their church and, as such, can identify themselves as members of The Salvation Army. It is the opportunity to explore your faith and how you best express is.

Salvation Army churches are led by officers (ministers). All officers are soldiers who feel they have been called by God into ministry through The Salvation Army. They then begin the process of becoming a Salvation Army officer. This afternoon I had a coffee with Bev, who attends a Salvation Army church as an Adherent. I wanted to find out what made Bev choose to be an adherent instead of a uniformed soldier (Salvationist) and whether the physical uniform played a part in her decision.’

This afternoon I had a coffee with Bev, who attends a Salvation Army church as an Adherent. I wanted to find out what made Bev choose to be an adherent instead of a uniformed soldier (Salvationist) and whether the physical uniform played a part in her decision.

Bev started coming To church as a new mother to the mum & tots group over 30 years ago and pretty much stayed. Bev is a qualified child carer and foster parent, so continued to be involved in parent & child groups and Sunday schools.

Although being a part of the church now for over 30 years it was only three years ago that Bev became an ‘official’ member as an adherent. The reason was simply that she was asked.
Bev seems pretty much part of the furniture at the church and I guess people automatically assumed she was a member. It isn’t a big thing for Bev, “I was happy going along and didn’t feel I needed to become a member to believe”

Being an adherent has made no real difference to the role she takes at church, she works hard, perhaps five days a week, helping with lunch clubs, parent & child groups, the two youth clubs, holiday clubs, Sunday school and when she has time she helps with the cleaning. She is a valuable asset to the church, yet doesn’t wear a uniform so is unable to take an official role in the church. Then again, Bev was working hard for the church long before making it official as a member.

In interviewing Bev, there is a sense of frustration, of feeling unappreciated.

It’s understandable that she feels frustrated about not feeling recognised for the week in, week out commitment she makes. She mentions the annoyance at special events.

One occasion in particular when an important church official was visiting and suddenly a uniformed member wanted to help out with food preparation, later they were publicly thanked for their hard work at that particular event. “Some take the praise when others have done the dirty, they don’t thank the ones that do it every week, but then thank each other”. I recognise what she says, how often at big events the caterers are brought in the be thanked for their hard work, yet many of those are one time helpers, being brought in for standing ovations, when the ones who work every week hide at the back.

She mentions that recently a uniformed member moved from another church and took over the job of a non-uniformed member without asking whether that was ok.

Bev speaks of “them and us”, I ask if she means uniform and non-uniform members, but she tells me it’s between the haves and the have-nots. However with the cost of the uniform being so high I wonder whether it amounts to the same thing.

Bev says she simply couldn’t afford the cost of a uniform and even some of the casual items of clothing are out of her price range, wearing a uniform is out of the question. However, when volunteering at the church she wears a Salvation Army polo shirt, paid for by the church as part of her ‘work clothes’.

I asked Bev, if she could afford the uniform, would you wear it?

“I wouldn’t wear it, people wear it and I don’t think they’re true Christians and shouldn’t wear it. I feel sometimes I am a better Christian than the uniform wearers. I think it’s wrong to think that wearing a uniform to give you a sense of being better than someone else is wrong.”

I’ve also seen this attitude to the uniform before, the sense that putting on the uniform somehow makes you a good Christian, makes you feel superior to people in the church who choose not to wear it. It’s not what the uniform was designed to do and certainly not a Christian belief.

You’re either a sinner or a saint, and saints are dead people. Wearing a uniform or not wearing one doesn’t raise your status in anyway.

Not wearing a uniform means Bev can’t take an official role in the church, she can’t become YPSM (in charge of caring for the young people) because she isn’t in uniform, but people don’t see the amount of youth work she does without it becoming official.

Like many people, the uniform is out of price range for Bev. This hasn’t stopped people becoming soldiers though, the corps sometimes will buy the uniform for the person when they can. I asked what would happen if the corps (church) offered to buy her a uniform. A definite No. “Everyone would know I’m a charity through the network (leadership) meetings. I’m not a charity case.”

I know myself, as someone who couldn’t afford a uniform. Society has left people claiming benefits with a sense of shame, TV programmes showing benefit claimants as scroungers, the government checking disabled people with the belief that we’re mostly faking it. People in full time work having to use food banks rather than the government change work laws. There is a sense of shame about having to ask for something, a bigger shame than I’ve ever known about being poor.

The church should be different and I know what Bev means. We should be equal in the church, a lot is said about the New Testament and it’s ‘all is one in Christ’ from Galatians 3, but they mostly are talking about male/female equality, not slave/free (rich/poor). The uniform should be something we can all afford, or nothing at all.

Bev also talks about the style of it. If she wore it (around £250 for the full uniform) and saw a man on the ground in need would she feel able to kneel down and help him? Bev laughs, “not in that tight skirt.” Again I think about the parable of the Good Samaritan. I’ve heard how the uniform gets soldiers into places where they couldn’t if they were not in uniform, but they mean the few times when the Army have spoken out about political decisions. It’s not practical to help when the need arises.

I asked Bev, is there one situation that you remember when you’ve been made to feel less than equal for not having a uniform.

Bev tells me of a time when a uniformed member called her the washer-upper, rather than use her name. I think about this for a moment then close with two questions.

1. Is an adherent a lower form of membership? “Yes”

2. Are you equal to a soldier in the corps? “No”

It’s a shame that two membership types have created a hierarchy, which was never the plan. But I also recognise what she says, and I know, deep down, others do to.

My blog usually comes with images, and I thought what would be a fitting image, perhaps an invisible man to identify with Bevs feeling of not being appreciated, but then I remembered a poster from the Salvation Army in Canada.

Of the Cloth – A meeting with the Reverend

My first impressions, when I think about the Anglican Church and cloth is one of extravagance.  I imagine gold worked embroidered headwear, lavishly designed altar cloths and endless men in long dresses. I realise, I know little about the Anglican Church.

So with my perceived image of the church I went to visit the Revd Canon Kathryn Fitzsimons, currently a Vicar in Gipton, Leeds. 

One of the first things I noticed is actually how little fancy wear there was. On the whole Kathryn wears plain long robes, made from good quality fabrics with well thought out details like double inner pockets and fringes not for religious reasons, but the simple need to make the robe last as long as possible. 

The robes could be made cheaper with less expensive fabrics, but the saying “buy cheap, buy twice” could be a mantra for the church. Kathryn’s own surplice, bought in 1999, is still worn today and looking good for years to come.  

I asked about the idea of Sunday best, where did it come from? 

This idea that we turn up at church looking as though we lead perfect lavish lives, then the rest of the week we (at least I do) wander around in scruffy jeans and t-shirts.

I’ve always seen the Sunday best idea as a false image. Would God really be impressed if I turn up on Sunday in my party frock when he sees me the other 6 days of the week pulling on my almost worn out grey M&S knickers?

Kathryn explains that the Sunday best goes back to a time when we only had two sets of clothing, one for workdays and one for special occasions and Sunday. It also has roots in a Biblical sense of giving our best to God, going back to Cain and Abel’s offerings, but I’m not convinced God is that excited about my fashion sense as much as He is about my offering and sacrifice.

The robes are designed to cover her everyday clothing underneath and are plain in design. Kathryn explained that this helps take the focus away from her and towards God. This is especially important as a woman. Female actors will often be asked questions on how they dieted for a role, where their male counterparts will be asked how they mentally prepared, or their fitness regime. The same is true of the church, women will be judged on their hair, make-up (or lack of) and dress sense.

The robe takes away the ability to judge Kathryn on her personal dress sense and makes people see her simply as a woman of God.

Although the everyday robes are plain, they are decorated with simple stoles, like a scarf around the neck, these decorated items turn the plain robe into a fancy garment of celebration. Kathryn has a box of them, each with it’s own story and personally made or inherited with her in mind. These hand made one off pieces must have taken time and expertise to make, they look expensive and probably would be out of many people’s price range. 

In truth, the church pays very little for it’s textiles. Kathryn owns her own everyday robes and stoles, and the church own a small quantity of special occasion chasubles which have been made to last long enough to cover the costs. 

Kathryn takes me into the church, a simple building with little decoration, just a plain altar cloth at the front in green, the colour of the season. As Kathryn shows me around the church I begin to see the value of the cloth. Her stoles each hold a personal story for her, but each also tell a story.  

Illiteracy is still around but many years ago it was the poor who were often lacking in schooling. Like church windows telling bible stories, these stoles each tell their own simple tale. The journey bringing Kathryn to work in Leeds amongst the poor (I first met Kathryn through Leeds Poverty Truth), flames hinting at the Holy Spirit and Pentecost, Bread and Wine reminding us of communion.

Kathryn leads me to a smaller, side room with a smaller altar. The cloth on this altar is her favourite. Made by people in the church it tells the tale of the communities darker moments, when poverty and crime were high. The people on the cloth seem to flee from a broken home to the peace and hope of God. In the middle of the home split in two is a cross, reminding everyone that in the middle of the brokenness is the church. It’s not just a nice story and a nice image, it’s a re-telling of the church and community’s history. 

Kathryn explains that the majority of textiles in the church and her own property were made as an offering to the church or to Kathryn to honour the work she is doing. Kathryn explained that an embroiderers gift to the church is as important as the choirs singing. 

That, for me, sums up my own feelings in church, as a member of the Salvation Army. Some might question the cost of an altar cloth or wall hangings, yet have unlimited resources when providing for the church musicians. It often seems as though church participation is best served through music and the non-musical have no option but to sit back and watch. Yet if we believe that Christianity is for the whosoever then we need to consider all contributors, all gifts as equally valued in his house. 
If we valued other gifts in our worship would our services change? Would we see artists bringing in their easels to paint what God shows them through the service?  

Rather than a craft table at the back of the hall to keep kids quiet, will we ever see creative gifts other than the musical ones being equally valued in all the churches?

An annotated bibliography

A short list of resources on ecology in textiles.

1. Over-Dressed, The shockingly high cost of cheap fashion

Cline, E.L. (2013). Over-Dressed (2nd ed.). New York: Penguin.

This is a great book as a first look into the fashion industry and the true cost of clothing manufacture. It breifly touches on alternatives, but is mostly focused on the big name brands and high street stores. Although the book is written for an American audience the situation is very similar to fashion in the UK. It’s an easy book to read through as a whole, but also good to dip into the sections you want to look at. Mostly aimed at a commercial designer, it does make you think about your own practice.

2. Upcycling

Seo, D. (2011). Upcycling. Philadelphia: Running Press.

A book of several small projects for mainly household ideas. Most of the ideas are interesting and physically appealing and the projects are designed for all levels. I liked the use of old cassette tape and CD cases, but wonder how effective some of the projects are if we are having buy a lot of new stuff to upcycle something. The book though has a lot of ideas to start you off with and for once, it’s not about fashion.

3. The Sustainable Fashion Handbook

Black, S. (2012). The sustainable fashion handbook. London: Thames & Hudson.

I had a bit of a problem with a book too large to fit into my rucksack calling itself a handbook, and I doubt I would borrow it from the library. However, once space has been found to read the book you find it’s actually interesting. Short 1-2 page quick reads about designers and their approach to sustainable and ecological fashion. Pages of quotes from designers and consumers on what they understand about sustainability mixed with fashion photos and interesting questions like would a pay per load washing machine make a difference? This is a book you need to dip in and out of on a regular basis, and I can also appreciate it’s size, it just wouldn’t do as a small book. It’s not a book I want to lug home, but I hope no one else does either. I hope it stays in the library where I can keep having quick looks at.

4. From Wool to Waulking

Kennedy, N. (2014). From wool to waulking [DVD]. USA

Norman Kennedy is one of the best resources for taking a fleece and turning it into a woven fabric without using modern means. Now in his 70’s Norman learnt his skills from traditional spinners and weavers in his teenage years in the highlands. his knowledge of the history of spinning in a traditional way goes right to the times when it was still done as part of daily life. There is a sense that his way is the only way to do things, in a sense this can put you off by thinking newer techniques are the wrong way, what he knows is how the women of the Scottish highlands made fabric, but not the differences around the world. If you can accept that his way is just one way of many then the DVD is a fantastic source of seeing the traditional way of making without waste.

5. Three Bags Full

Mackenzie, J. (2014). Three bags full [DVD]. USA

Judith Mackenzie is similar to Norman Kennedy in that she has come from a tradition of spinning, but while she knows a lot about the old techniques she also appreciates the newer ways of spinning wool. The DVD shows you how to select a fleece from a sheep fair, how to spot illness or stress in the sheep and what to avoid in choosing fleeces. Several ways of washing and sorting a fleece are looked at including the fermenting way which saves water. It’s a good DVD for those wanting to understand the different breeds and how to select a breed for the item you want to make. Judith also talks about a worsted yarn and how to make a true worsted rather than semi worsted yarn.

E-textiles, Lights in your crafts

This is the first of a few YouTube videos I want to make showing how to put electronics into your craft project. I made it from a crafters point of view because so many tutorials on this subject are written by someone from an electronic background.

This is how to put one LED into your craft project.

You need:

Conductive thread

3 volt battery

Sewable battery holder

LED light

Sewing needle

And obviously the project you want to use.

I hope the video shows you clearly enough, but am always happy to help.