Saturday, 30 April 2011

Woven platter tutorial

You may remember that a week or two back I made a woven platter out of ash twigs from the garden:

It's a great little platter. It's about 8" across and obviously not much use for anything soggy but we've used ours for serving bread rolls and fairy cakes, and it looks lovely on our dresser the rest of the time. When I made it I wasn't so sure about having used string to wrap the outer ring, or at least only using it partially. I do quite like consistency so once it was done I wished I'd either wrapped it all the way round or used a longer stick initially so it could be secure enough just by twisting it around itself multiple times.

I've had quite a bit of positive feedback from people who have seen it, so given that I haven't seen a tutorial on how to make something like this before I thought it might be a good one to try as my first one. :)

To start, you need a good bundle of sticks. We recently took down a section of old mixed hedge so I had several felled trees to pick over. You're looking for sticks that are relatively uniform in size and have some flexibility to them - they will need to bend! I used mostly ash, but hazel or willow would be good choices too. They also need to be as straight as possible, but some curve is OK.

Then, take your longest, most flexible stick. Having already taken the best ones for my first dish I had less to choose from this time but I did find a nice rod of hazel that was just under 5' long. Work the wood in your hands, curving it round. When you've curved it enough to make a full circle start wrapping the thinner end of the stick around the thicker end and keep wrapping until you're out of stick, twisting it around itself. As long as you have enough length to get  over half way round your circle it should be secure enough to remain in shape on its own. You can experiment with the size of your circle too, to get more or less extra twists. My circle was about 9" across.

Next, go through the rest of your sticks and cut them down into lengths a couple of inches more than the diameter of your circle. You don't need to be too precise here, but better to go too long than too short. If you have the choice, cut each stick so that your lengths are as straight as possible.

Now pick out two of the thicker, sturdier sticks. These will be your anchor sticks. Lie one of them on top of your circle across its centre. Take your second stick and lie it on top of your first and at 90 degrees to it, then carefully post each end of the stick underneath the ring. You may need to fiddle a little with this. I found that it was easiest to do one side leaving just enough stick at the other side to touch but not cross the ring. Then I pushed the stick underneath the ring and threaded it through a little way to secure it. I had to do a little evening up afterwards, but once you have both sticks in position the pressure they exert on each other and the outer ring should keep them in place well enough.

Now have a look at your structure. This is the point when you decide which direction you're going to weave in. It doesn't actually matter which way you choose but both times I've done this I've found that one way has felt instinctively right. That might just be me though. Once you've decided, take another stick and thread it into your ring so that it crosses the outer ring and the perpendicular anchor stick the opposite way to the first - so if the one you thread it next to went over the outer ring, under the anchor stick and then over the outer ring this next stick needs to go under the outer ring, over the anchor stick and under the ring again. Once you've done a few you'll start to see it take shape.

I found that I got so far and then all the sticks I had left to thread were too curved to give any resistance once put in place - they'd just have fallen right out again - so I had to take a break to go and hunt for more sticks. It took some wading through nettles to the felled trees that had been piled there but I got some in the end. This was a lesson, or two. One - get lots of sticks to start with and two, don't bother with any that have anything more than a very slight curve to them. The un-threaded ones above were all too curved for me to use and get them to stay in place.

Assuming you have enough suitable sticks, keep going until you can't fit any more in. Then your creation should look something like this:

Then take a pair of secateurs and trim all the ends off, leaving about a quarter inch overlap to ensure they stay in place even if there is some slight movement to their positioning. I really enjoy this part - your creation immediately transforms from a strange bundle of woven sticks into quite a sophisticated-looking platter!

Now you can sit back and admire your handiwork. And eat cake off it, should you feel so inclined.

Having made this one for the tutorial, I wasn't as pleased with it as I had been my original one. I think it was a combination of having chosen not to wrap the ring, resulting in an outer edge that was a little uneven by the time I'd woven all the sticks through it, and having a less uniform bunch of sticks to work with. If you compare the two platters, the first looks neater due to all the sticks being much more similar in size:

I like them both though. I think next time I'll try wrapping all the way round, but I might have to wait until next winter when the next lot of felling is done. I'm all out of ash sticks...

Linked up in the very lovely Not Just a House Wife's blog in Show Me What Ya Got #24. Why not pop over and check out the other great ideas there?

Thursday, 28 April 2011

Rainbow butterflies

Today, Midi-Poddle has had one of those days. One of those ones where she clearly got out of bed in the wrong hemisphere and the grumpy, stubborn and rude aspects of her personality dominate over the happy, personable and creative ones. Fortunately for me she spent the morning at the village play group and then had lunch with Grandma-Poddle before I picked her up so I only had to entertain her for half the day. I knew as soon as I arrived at the Grand-Poddle house we were in for a challenge as she was ignoring the old friends of Grandma that had come to visit instead of charming them and she then began instructing them to leave. I knew that bribery was probably my only way to get her out of there without a meltdown so I pulled out a creative gem that I've seen online several times but had yet to try to offer her when we got home - making our own rainbow crayons.

In preparation for this day I'd stashed a few old crayons and had picked up a silicon ice-cube tray in butterfly shapes for pennies in a cheap homewares shop. Midi was really into it. Suddenly the grump disappeared and we had a lovely time breaking the crayons into tiny pieces and mixing them up between the moulds. It only took a few minutes in the oven for them to melt down and once out and slightly cooled I popped them into the fridge to speed up the process. A chat on skype to family in Australia was sufficient distraction to let them cool fully and before we knew it, we were done. A whole flock of rainbow butterflies! (Is flock the right collective noun for butterflies?)

Even better, the grump never came back! Hooray for rainbow butterflies!

Monday, 25 April 2011

Sunflowers and squiggles

Back in this post I mentioned that Midi-Poddle had requested I do her a stencilled sunflower top. I neglected to mention that she completely spurned the elephant top that I'd made her that time. She's a girl with strong opinions and the confidence to voice them which will serve her well in the long run and drive me potty in the mean time. Still, last night I got a bit of time to do some more playing with stencilling so I cut her a sunflower and prettified a plain top for her. As soon as she saw it this morning she put it on and, aside from the hour or so when she was in her swimming cossie, she wore it (along with the dirt and dribbles of yogurt it acquired through the day) till bath time. Success!

I also took one of her drawings of herself and turned it into a stencil, adding the word 'hug' for cuteness value. I loved how it turned out and hung it up outside her bedroom door to surprise her when she woke up. Unfortunately, she doesn't like it. It doesn't have the bucket, spade, sea, sand and sun that it should have apparently. So that's my next challenge. :) I still really like it though.

Like I did with the elephant stencil, I also did a negative print of this one. This time it's on one of the t-shirts I dyed a week or so back. This one came out a lovely mottled lavender colour - they were all variations of purple - and because I just had the cut out pieces to play with I was able to lay out the elements differently.

My reason for doing all these is to find out whether any of them are potentially saleable, both from a quality and a workload perspective. At present the technique I'm using for these isn't really workable if I want to get any kind of fair income for the time input. I've had a few ideas on how I could possibly improve on it - like making stencils that are reusable multiple times rather than just one or two like the paper/bin bag ones I'm currently using. I like the designs, but could do with feedback on whether they have enough appeal for someone - maybe even you, dear reader - to part with actual money for.

I fancy expanding on Midi's figure with different expressions and slogans both for kids and for adults. More on that when I've got some of the ideas myself and Dr Poddle have come up with already down on paper, but in the mean time, feedback on these - and any of the other items I've posted about creating recently - would be very much appreciated. Commercial viability is the goal, albeit on a small scale. What do you think my chances are?

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Playing with sticks

It's been yet another glorious day! We spent the first half of it preparing for and then having fun at a fundraising ploughman's lunch for Midi-Poddles play group. The kids had a riot and Midi even ate most of her ploughman's, including the spinach, which was a pleasant surprise. We decided to come home afterwards to play in the garden and we did. With sticks! (And a bit of string and an old sheet if you're being picky.)

We have some recently felled trees in the garden at the moment. We don't do a lot of felling generally but this was for a rather big project we have going on right now that I might post more about later, and given that we've planted over 150 trees on site since we moved here less than 2 years ago we're in credit. The trees currently down are a mixture of hazel, ash and hawthorn and I thought it woud be fun to use some of the wood. Firstly I cut six hazel rods to about 6', tied them at the top, spread the bases and tied on an old sheet to make a basic teepee playhouse for Midi for the summer.

Then while she and her dolls had a tea party in it and Mini sat in his chair chatting to the apple tree I attacked the ash cuttings. They seemed nice and bendy so I decided to have a go at weaving them and managed to knock out a pretty effective platter/basket thing in a matter of minutes.

I'm sure I could improve on it. With a longer piece for the outer ring it may be secure enough without the string, but the string looks quite nice too so maybe that could be wrapped all the way round. I was just impatient this time so only wrapped it as much as was needed to keep it secure. It was fun to do though, and it also works well as a stage for the lolly stick people we made yesterday:

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Playing with woodblocks

I did some dying of t-shirts and baby-gros yesterday, with the intention of using them to do more freezer paper stencil prints. Unfortunately they then had to be washed and they are still damp so I'm having to be patient. They've turned out rather well though, so hopefully they'll be worth the wait.

We've been blessed with two sleepy children this evening so I decided to get out the wood blocks I picked up at the World Textile Day event I mentioned in my very first post and have a play.


The burp cloth was really just a handy piece of cotton to attack first as a trial run. The prints aren't wonderfully even but they're not too bad either, and again it does add to that 'hand-made' feel. As for the top, apart from the dodgy positioning of the prints around the neckline which I hope won't be that noticeable when it's worn, I really like the way the prints have transformed this plain and simple top into something rather yummy. I might have to do some printing on a top or two of mine now...

Thursday, 14 April 2011


Today's project (in my brief hour of free time while my Mum took Midi-Poddle to the park and Mini had a snooze) was to finally try out the freezer paper stencilling technique I've been reading about for ages. However, freezer paper costs several quid for a pack in this neck of the woods and due to needing to be careful with our pennies these days I decided to make my own instead. I used the bin bag/cartridge paper combination suggested at the end of this tutorial and used both the positive and negative versions of the stencil to decorates shirts for both kids. I'm really pleased with how well they turned out, and I was just about done when Midi came home, although the drying took a little while longer.

I wasn't quite as neat as I could have been but that doesn't bother me, it's given it that proper 'hand made' look. I was impressed with how crisp the edges could be though.

Midi has requested that I do her a sunflower next. Bring on the next free hour!

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Chicken run

You know that chicken run I mentioned a few posts back? Here it is:


We've had some glorious weather these last few days so have been spending rather a lot of time in the garden. The result? One very happy and gloriously filthy three year old daughter. As it happens, she's taken to wearing dresses much more recently and they're perfect attire for sunny days outside, so the time has come for me to make her some new summer dresses. Now I just have to find the time...

To encourage me, here are a few from last year:

 This one is my own pattern, but it's not exactly a complicated one. It's reversible too. I think I'll be making a few more of these this year.

 This one is made from a great free pattern from Oliver & S out of tea towels. You can get some amazing tea towels from some of the discount homewares stores if you keep your eyes peeled and they're so versatile. That hat she's wearing is made from tea towels as well.

She still fits this one, which I love. It's made using the free Itty Bitty dress pattern from Made by Rae. It's made from a second hand duvet cover I spotted in a charity shop that was just so bright and summery I couldn't resist it. This involved my first ever attempt at making my own piping, which worked, amazingly enough. There might be another one of these on the way before long too.

Now I just need a spare evening or two...

Monday, 11 April 2011

Painting again

A couple of years ago I had the opportunity to exhibit and hopefully sell some paintings at a one day event in London. I put a lot of work in to building up a new body of work for it, but in the event it didn't go as well as I'd hoped for a number of reasons. I think I burned out a bit then and haven't felt the draw to paint again since. Until this last week.

I found a new blog recently which lead me to the site of US artist Joel Henriques. Like me, he finds inspiration from the likes of Miro and Calder, so his work had immediate appeal, but one thing I really liked was the texture he creats in many of his works. It got my juices flowing again so I got out my paints and started layering up a canvas, just experimenting with the texture to see where I could take it.

Then we got a call from some old and very dear friends to let us know they were moving to one of their favourite places, several hours further away from us. It's a wonderful opportunity for them and I'm very happy for them, but we'll get to see them less which is a little sad. Still, happy times for them. Some five years ago they asked me if I'd do a painting for them for their kitchen after they rennovated it. I promised, and came up with a sketch for an image I really wanted to produce for them, but the revamp never happened and neither did the painting.

So last night I got to pull the two things together, finishing off the background texture to fit the image then painting it on. I really enjoyed it. It seems that getting out the paints again was a good thing. I hope our friends like their housewarming gift.

Friday, 8 April 2011

The pocket puppet

I had an idea the other day, for a combination toy that would have a number of uses. I was reading through some older posts at Made by Joel, a blog I stumbled across recently that has me inspired in all kinds of ways. He's a very talented chap that Joel is! Anyway, 18 months or so ago he made a very simple but effective doll for his kids and it reminded me that complex isn't always better in kids toys.

We're just hitting the holidays so we're heading out and about most days to keep us all entertained. With this in mind I knocked out a quick multi-purpose but very basic toy for Midi Poddle. It's a cuddly lion, a glove puppet and a bag for paper and pens all in one, but it only has six pieces and it took me about an hour.

Since making it I think I've figured out a way to make it (or one very similar) in less pieces and better. I think I'd like a flap over one of the pockets as the pens tend to drop out if it gets waved about too much and I went a bit wonky with the bottom trim on this one. However, Midi loves it and it's come out with us several times already, along with pens and paper so it's serving its purpose. I'll hopefully try a new improved version soon, and maybe even post a pattern if I think it's good enough. :)

In the mean time, here it is in action:

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