There is nothing quite like getting stuck into a new thing. You haven’t quite yet realised how impossibly hard it will be to reproduce all the maddeningly complex projects you’ve been eyeing up on Pinterest and you’re new enough that you’re pleased by any new creation, no matter how wonky the stitches or sad the seams are.
It was back in Kyoto, at the Nishijin Textile Centre, that I first had a go at weaving. Nishijin is the legendary textiles district that gives its name to Nishijin-ori, the fabric produced there. It is known for its quality and the incredibly intricate patterns and designs in the weave that are often used for highly elaborate obis. In more modern times, nishijin-ori is often used in neckties or gamaguchi, the metal clasp purses that are very popular in Japan.
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Crochetopedia bills itself as the ‘only crochet reference you’ll ever need’ which is indeed a bold claim for a book. It’s 244 pages of stitch diagrams, instructions and patterns but will this book prove to be the last crochet book I ever buy?
On my recent adventures I passed through the Germany city of Bochum, located in the Ruhr region. Bochum isn’t your usual tourist destination, mostly because it has a reputation for being an incredibly ugly place. This is even more of a damning criticism when you consider that Bochum is located in the industrial heartland of Germany.
I have been to the nearby cities of Dortmund and Dusseldorf before, so I came to Bochum with rather low expectations. However, once you’ve escaped the immediate vicinity of the central train station, the city that awaits came as something of a surprise.
During World War II, as this region was part of the centre for arms manufacture, both Bochum and many surrounding cities were nearly completely destroyed. A scant few buildings survived, including Mutter Wittig, now a restaurant, and Altes Brauhaus Rietkötter, which is awaiting re-opening for its new purpose in life.
When it comes to colours, I like a palate that could be described as ‘bright and bold’ or, if you were feeling less complimentary, lurid. Typically, I use acid dyes for silk and wool, partly out of habit, partly because I don’t generally spin plant fibres, so haven’t needed to dye them. However, I’ve had a few people now say that if you want the boldest, brightest colours for silks, then it’s Procion MX dyes you need to use.
Procion MX dyes are a type of fibre reactive dye and as they are out of patent, a lot of different manufacturers now make them. There are a few kinds of Procion dyes, but the MX part of the name refers to the cold reactive dyes that are ideal for dyeing silks, cottons and even wood. Probably the biggest distinction between them and acid dyes is that with Procion MX dyes, you don’t need to heat the dye to get it to fix. You also generally dye at alkaline pHs with them too. (It is possible to use them at acidic pHs on silk but that’s not what I’ll be worrying about here.)
New dyes means new stock solutions, so I started by making up about 5 % dye solutions in a range of different colours. One advantage of acid dyes is they keep very well so you can make up your stock solutions and keep them hanging around in a cupboard until you next need them. Procion MX dyes are not so stable; if you don’t add any acid/alkaline to them, the solutions will last about a week but as soon as you add the soda ash, the dyes start to react much more quickly and will only last a few hours.
The National Trust (or the National Trust for Places of Historic Interest or Natural Beauty if you’re feeling particular) is an organisation dedicated to the conservation of ‘lands and tenements of beauty and historic interest.’ Many of the iconic English country houses are maintained by them and even a few bits of the British coastline.
As a child, I spent many hours being carted off to various National Trust properties, usually with a fabulous picnic in tow. I remember this fondly but I have no idea if younger me was nearly so appreciative of quite how fantastic some of the architecture and history I was seeing was.
As an adult, the picnics mostly consist of handing over my life savings at the National Trust’s café, missing my grandparents’ ability to identify the maker and date of every piece of ceramic, but feeling very appreciative that someone has kept these snapshots of history alive. They also include an inordinate amount of time staring at textiles and grilling the poor volunteer stewards for as much information as I can glean from them.
Newark Park is located in Gloucestershire, close to Wotton-under-Edge and for a house with a reputation for being dank and cold, has some very interesting fabrics and materials in it.
I’ve been travelling a lot lately, which is always its own mixture of fun, frustrating, tedious and exciting. I enjoy getting to see new places and explore new scenery but I’m not sure I will ever miss being bleary-eyed at airports, checking I have my passport for the five thousandth time and hoping I haven’t missed a last-minute gate change.
Unfortunately, airlines have yet to have a row of seats with trestles so the embroidery addicts can bring their frames as they fly, so my Jacobean crewelwork is currently hiding under the tissue paper at home. However, I always make sure I have a few more portable pieces to break up the tiresome waiting that always comes hand in hand with travelling.
Travelling with your craft supplies isn’t always easy. First of all, you can’t bring your entire stash. After all, you do need to leave room in your suitcase for all those exotic new fabrics and yarns you will undoubtedly find on your routes around cities that just happen to cross every craft store in town. The other issue is airport security can be a little challenging when the contents of your hand baggage might come in handy if you need to dispose of someone on the plane…
The trip to London concluded to one of my favourite museums, the Victoria and Albert (V&A) museum. Whenever I’m in London, I always try and visit the V&A and I’ve still only seen a small fraction of the incredible collection they have.
Everything about the V&A is fabulous – the building, the exhibitions, the entire scale of the museum. If you can think of it, they probably have a collection on it. I’ve seen everything from a collection of locks and locking mechanisms, to armour for animals alongside more traditional pieces of art.
As it is a British national museum, entrance is absolutely free. You do have to pay to see the special exhibitions (tickets are around £15 for non-members) they have but that is it. They have an extensive gift shop and cafes if you want to support the work they do, which I would wholeheartedly encourage. There are few museums with collections as extensive and varied as the V&A’s.