Monday, January 25, 2021


This is one of a several post series, outlining the background for work I have accepted for an exhibition in at the From out of the blue Studio Gallery . (Spoiler alert - my work won an award)

This post is a little bit historic, here in New Zealand 2020 was rough, as it was across the world, Covid-19   required us to work from home, to socially distance and to practice much more stringent hygiene than most of us usually did. There was hand washing, and and coughing into elbows and towards the end of 2020 wearing of masks. There was also fear, and the unknown and worry, as we adapted to new rules and conventions around living that were designed to keep us safe and healthy as a community, a team of five million our Prime Minister called us. New Zealand geographically is isolated - distance from many places. Usually this causes us New Zealanders to have a little moan, travel to the UK takes days even (well 26+ hours on a fast plane, longer usually given more stopovers and economy flights with slower planes), to Australia 5 hours, and to the USA 12-19 hours and costs a lot. In 2020 this distance became a bonus, New Zealand shut its boarders and went into lockdown earlier than most countries - with a result that Covid-19 rates and deaths in New Zealand were and are still low compared to many other places. 

Sewing with my 1960's Singer 15 Clone
 - a simple  vintage straight stitch machine

Here in New Zealand we watched as the world, countries and peoples who were not able to shut boarders and who financially were not able to set up the economics required for a 6 week stay at home order - faced increasing levels of Covid-19 in their communities. I was shocked and dismayed at the rising toll on hospitals, health workers, and communities. 

I saw amazing craft responses, the prices of second hand sewing machines skyrocketed, here in NZ one yarn supplier initially positioned themselves as an essential service on mental health grounds, and our/my students in a Fashion School discovered that while New Zealand was only permitting 'essential services for shopping and travel' that bedding suppliers sold flat sheets as 'essential' which meant they could purchase fabric to keep designing. People took up knitting, crochet, baking, yoga, and sour-dough breads to fill the void left by commuting and activity beyond their homes. 

From mid 2020 - our government began to encourage the use of masks, in additional to hand sanitiser and other measures, I made masks for those around me who could not make their own and gifted them. Our students made masks in their spare time and sold these for 'cost' -the local media picked up their story and they became locally famous Georgie, Cassidy and Katherine - there was demand. My first  masks were made as exploratory masks, using materials to hand, elastic became in shoe supply and I was grateful for an earlier interest in sewing dolls clothes for my children years back that left me with meters of narrow elastic, and for work for ordering a spool of elastic before national and retail supplies ran low. I was grateful for my Ravelry Communities, there other crafters, knitters and sexists and makers of all kinds discussed their experiences, knowledge and strategies for Covid-19. Ravlery is an amazing space, those who are geeky and passionate enough about their knitting are also usually intelligent and passionate about other things, and many are experts in other areas, scientists, educators, medics and lab specialists. I followed discussion 'threads' where mask making was discussed and knowledge shared, where the progression of Covid- its transmission and occurrence globally was tracked and discussed, and where the issue of shopping and cooking when supply chains were disrupted were problem solved. Where people shared and networked in ways that were amazing to me still - the hive mind that is Ravlery which usually works together to provide expertise and knowledge in the field of crafting - worked to share info to keep its members safe. I am deeply grateful for those who shared their knowledge and unpacked technical information and linked to reliable sources (while discussing the pros and cons of everything in intelligent ways). 

Once that initial flurry of activity died down - and all those I knew who needed masks were provided for my thoughts turned to making masks that maybe were more planned, more deliberate and more reflective of what I wanted to say. I had seem some amazing masks on the FB group Breathe, many by indigenous makers who worked their unique heritages and craft traditions into their masks. If I was going to wear a mask - I wanted my mask to better represent me. 

I began to embroider some masks - to see where this would take me, using the tambour technique I have been working with for nearly a decade. I began with the phrase - Be Kind, one Jacinda Adern used to guide New Zealanders to be supportive of each other. 

More in next post.

Na Stella

Friday, December 20, 2019

A stitch in time, or maybe a little late

One of the first rules written in historic texts on mending is to reinforce thin or weak spots before they form holes. This is useful advice, it is far easier to patch or reinforce a thin spot than it is to patch a hole or tear. But there are times when 'fashion'  or convention dictate that something not be mended. I once worked with a women who's partner was a painter, and the first thing they did with new coveralls was mess them up. To appear in pristine new white coveralls, with no paint stains was just not done. Denim is one of those fabrics which has more 'value' when worn in, when a little worn or roughed up or faded. Manufacturers and Designers (not always the same thing) go out of their way to distress or 'pre-wear' denim, so it doesn't look so new, so unworn. This is something that increasingly makes me uncomfortable - distressing, bleaching, sanding, or ripping denim to look 'cool' shortens its life by years and years.
One of my oldest clothing items is a denim jacket, made in New Zealand by Workshop, it looks the same the the one they still sell. I bought it before there were children I my life, way back nearly 30 years ago, at the time it was expensive and a special purchase. It was slightly distressed (something I would avoid now as it shortens the life of garments), and I  have always loved the fit, the long sleeves and the narrow body.
But the problem with long sleeves is the same as the problem with long jeans or trousers - the hem wears out first. At first I didn't mind, I kind of liked the 'this old thing' vibe of the ragged sleeve hems. I wore it with pride, imagining that the wear was kind of a symbol of a favourite jacket and of a slight disregard for conventions around clothing having to be new. As the frayed edge threads got longer and longer, and people started ask if I should trim them, and I realised that while a worn jacket might be 'cute' or 'street' it wasn't very practical, I started to catch the threads on door knobs and other edges.

It was time to repair my favourite denim jacket, my only denim jacket. First I trimmed away all the loose threads. This was good as trimming revealed the work that needed to be done. The edge had worn away and the inner and outer cuff were now separate layers. I realised the long threads were the threads that ran around the edge of the cuff -- as the edge warp threads wore away the horizontal weft threads had nothing to hold them in place.

There are traditions of mending all around the world. In my 'work' world I research mending and repair of textiles in New Zealand Museums. My focus period is 1870's to 1950's - kind of arbitrary dates based on when needlework including mending was included in the New Zealand school curriculum. I pair this with research that looks at text books published at the same time - and look at instructions for mending. One of the universal methods is a running stitch mend - it appears in all the books, and is the one I see most in mended textiles in collections. The second most frequent is a patch.  This method is the one that has become popular as people look at and emulate Boro textile repair. The darning samplers I have seen in New Zealand museums usually have the repairs worked in contrast threads, this is so who ever is viewing the sampler can clearly see how the repair was worked. This was twofold, so the teacher and examiners could assess the work-pesonship, and so the owner could use the sampler to remind them how to complete a repair.

I used Japanese Sashiko thread, from Minerva(in Wellington), to reinforce and stitch the cuffs. They don't list it on their website but if you phone them they will happily ship to you. The thread comes in several colours, but I choose to use a soft natural white. It also comes in at least two weights - I went for the finer thread. I could have used machine sewing thread and if I had the stitching would have been less visible. I could have used embroidery thread - but it would have had less twist than the Japanese repair thread.

 The first cuff - I just used the thread to reinforce the edge, the second cuff I added in a layer of folded cotton to even up the edge. This was the right sleeve and was more worn than the left (I'm right handed). Adding the layer of folded fabric between the two cuff layers - meant I had to work the horizontal stitches first.

How did looking at mending samplers in museums and vintage books inform me? Well I knew that the thread had to be kept soft, and not pulled too tight. If I pulled the mending threads too tight the work would become stiff. Keeping the stitches 'soft' allowed the fabric to retain its soft flexible fabric qualities.

The finished cuffs look mended, but that is ok, the jacket is 30 years old, it looks far more used and worn than any new garment would. Replacing the cuffs would have taken much more work and looked odd with the vintage fabric of the jacket.

The final cuffs are mended, and I can't wait to wash the jacket so the threads blend into the fabric more. Except my learning about sustainble fashion and the 'cost of fashion' informs me that laundry is one of the major ways to wear out textiles - we have been encouraged to over clean and wash our textiles far more than they need to be. There is some evidence that 80% of the environmental cost of a garment lies with a consumer - in the laundry  practices they use. I discuss this with my students - that as designers they may only be able to make decisions that affect 20% of the environmental cost of a garment. There is quite a bit of noise around how 'Fashion' is unsustainable - and most of it points fingers at manufacturers and designers - very little highlights the role customers have in caring for their garments. I will wash this jacket - when it is dirty, too dirty for a brush or an airing to deal with.  I did use my iron to steam the mend - knowing that the thread and fabric would puff up and relax and just look a bit more integrated.

Na Stella

Friday, November 22, 2019

Towards the end

I can't believe it is November 2019 already, I began this year with the intention of doing more blogging, of returning to the weekly or even bi-weekly posting to this blog as I used to do. It has been a busy year, with lots on - and my aims remain just that, aims. That said there are a few updates, things that are blog worthy. I have a new pattern out, and I'm weaving a little more, and I have some writing published in a book by Te Papa Press.

The Art and Science project I was working on back in August was finished, and exhibited and is now a pattern uploaded to Ravelry.
 The Exhibition catalogue is here, and contains images of the works in the exhibition. The image I used was a progress image, a developmental image. At the time the catalogue went into pre-print set up I just hadn't enough of the final project completed to use it in the catalogue.  The pattern is here, and sets out the background to the project. I collaborated with Prof Craig Marshall, of the University of Otago. Craigs interest was in the way biological matter changes the structure and formation of ice. I went with the term Dirty Ice - but its more complex than that, its about scale and structure and repetition - and I tried to capture those ideas in a modified lace.

The final pattern is for a double layer lace cowl, the lace shifts from a larger triangular structure that repeats over six stitches into a medium lace structure that repeats over four stitches,  to an even tighter version that repeats over four stitches. The goal was to transition - and I found a solution that used both fewer stitches (so a closer spacing) and also different sized holes. Some used double yarn overs to create four stitches, others used double yarn overs to create two stitches, and the lasts used a single yarn over to create two stitches. The transitions  need to be fluid - I couldn't just switch between the two laces - I needed to find a way to merge them together over so they blended and morphed the way the structure of ice did. The lace also had to be triangular - as I learned ice was. It felt like breaking the rules - but also like I was beginning to understand this lace knitting just a little bit more. What was really exciting was the number of comments on the pattern - and that within the first few months several projects have appeared. In my other world, my work world, I write my research up into papers, and publish them. One of the ways we 'measure' the success of our publications, is in citations - how many times other people use 'our' work in their work. I'd like to think that having a pattern worked by another knitter is a little bit like being cited. And in a follow up I have signed up to take part in 2020 - meaning the opportunity for another collaborative project.

I'v  also been weaving, this is the latest batch of dish towels on the loom, a 12/2 cotton, in a colour called Pompeii Dust, alongside a black and dark blue. This was a challenging set up, finer than anything I have woven before except for that really fine 22/2 cotton sampler I mistakenly set up in 2014. At that stage I was brand new to weaving and didn't want to weave the kinds of thick home made chunky weaving that weavers seemed to do. I wanted to weave finer cloth. What I learned at the time was that weaving fine cloth is fun, and pretty impressive but involves lots of fiddly work to set up. Mistakes rather than being invisible are harder to find and trickier to fix. That little adventure taught me to approach fine weaving slowly. I have now made a few things in 10/2 and 8/2 cotton, and this is my first 12/2 cotton. Finer means more threads per inch, and so more chances to make mistakes and so more to potentially need to fix. The fabric that curves over the breast beam was woven by a visiting student - someone who has invested in his own loom - I invited him up to see how a floor loom worked - to motive him to put his together. His is second hand will need some assembly and set up.

This is probably my big news this week - something I wrote is in a book, a book on New Zealand Crafting. A few years back Damion Skinner held a series of workshops around New Zealand - inviting people to workshop and discus  what craft was, what craft meant and what craft could be. We were asked to develop a definition of Craft that worked for makers, for owners, for curators and for theorists - it was hard. The workshops were funded by Creative New Zealand.  Following the workshops people were asked to contribute to a book to be published.

The article is short, but hopefully clear to people who want to read about craft and craft education. One of the areas I research is how people were taught about mending. I was curious why people were not teaching mending any more - and I know it is tied up in the rise of consumer culture and of mass production. I suspect that decades of teaching mending as a virtue beget a culture that wanted to avoid mending at all costs, That never having to mend again was the very real outcome of making young people learn how to mend and telling them it was their 'lot in life'. Those children who had learned to mend at school were then exposed to a huge amount of marketing of consumer goods, including textiles. To see if my ideas were right meant a wee bit of work, looking at legislation, looking at samplers in museums, and looking at articles on teaching and learning needlework. Some of the content is available digitally - here. This year the work has progressed a little more with a visit to the Auckland War Memorial Museum, and a planned visit to Te Papa in a few weeks. Those visits were to capture data on mends done to domestic textiles in the 20th Century. At some point I think I may have to work my own mending sampler ...

So that is that, well nearly, I may have another loom and I might be in the process of doing some other weaving. More next week (promise).

na Stella

Sunday, August 25, 2019

There has been knitting, and there has been frogging

Yes, frogging, and mending, and knitting. There is even more weaving being set up. Truth be told, there is more knitting since the last blog post than a single post can cover - so today its just highlights and onward.
My AfterParty sweater is done, all finished, and was in time for the Christchurch Mid Winter Wool Feast in June. I do like this very much, the body is boxy, wide, and the sleeves narrow - it is one garment that receives multiple comments every time I wear it. Several people call it 'cute' which is kind of nice given I am now in my 50's and cute seems to belong to a distant past.  I would very much knit another of these. Maybe in some yarn that is more local?
 And with one sweater done, another was began. This time in lace-weight 2 ply yarn. Ad again a direct copy of one knit by someone who's style I admire, Julia, hers is in orange - mine in grey. I am Knitting BlueBell, Published by Jamieson & Smith, in their yarn. The pattern, and Julia, have this sweater knit in flat, but I have converted this to be knit in the round. I am playing fast and loose with gauge - no gauge swatch and I think is is knitting to size - when I hold it against me it feels ok - if not maybe smaller cub who is nearly my height but finer built might get it. The only tricky part has been centering the pattern repeats on the yoke, between the raglan lines. After a bit of thinking and a few false starts I simply counted the stitches - subtracted  as many stitches as I could for complete pattern repeats as I could and divided the remaining stitch count by 2 - placing half evenly on each side of the pattern repeats. I have worked those edges in checker board or part pattern repeats - depending on what feels best. Checker board if only a few stitches, part pattern repeats if nearly an entire repeat.
I am loving the yarn in the yoke colourwork, it is a soft pale blue green - with hints of pink and purple.
There has also been mending - next to the red darn, is the word Fix - in gold. These are commercial socks, pure merino. And they are soft and warm and fit nicely inside boots that hand knit socks are too bulky to fit into. But - 100% Merino is pretty fragile, and these are wearing thin in the wear spots, toe tips and the one on the top that caught on something. Occasionally it is nice to be reminded of the easy care and durable materials we have available to us.
And the last project is an Art Project, destined to be part of the Art and Science exhbition. A lace cowl designed in collaboration with a biochemist at the University of Otago. the lace is based on the lace used in Caparison by Vintage Purls, but morphs as it travels up the cowl to mimic the way contaminants in ice affect the crystal formation. Working how how to replicate that visually in hand knitted lace has challenged me and made me think about lace and repeats and stitch counts and transitions.
 There was much swatching, initially I thought the lace could be knitted in a long colour run yarn. The shift in colours was to signal a change in lace pattern - and there was much swatching and testing to see how that could work. What I didn't think through was how a singles yarn would bias as it was knitted making the swatch twist. That was a cool effect but not quite right for this project.
 After that I switched to using a plied yarn, and worked the developing laces a little more - playing with how many rows between the lace pattern rows,  how much to offset and how to seamlessly repeat these around a tube for a cowl.
And the mini tube - biased lace - I do like this version, its far more organic but not quite right for this project.

na Stella