Friday, 10 June 2016

Felting the Britannia Clock Tower, part 2

Continued from part 1

Now I had a felted building it was time to attach the felt trees. Emma had said I could 'borrow' some green wool in a beautiful mix of colours and just by curling it into loops with my fingers I could see it would make much better trees than I made a few weeks earlier.

So I added some new trees onto the backing felt:

A photo posted by Helen Lindop (@helenlindop) on

Then I sat the felted work next to the sky fabric I'd painted and - yes - the sky looked flat and boring next to the wonderful texture and colour of the felt.

So now I was going to felt the whole thing!

Here it is with some sky and road added, but the clock face removed as I wasn't happy with my first attempt.

And here's the finished picture, although I still need to sort out how I'll frame it. That'll be part 3 I guess!

By the way, I added a new clock face and sewed the hands on using gold thread. It was too fine to do with felt, which is why my previous attempt hadn't worked.

Felting the Britannia Clock Tower, part 1

Remember I said I'd become fascinated by the changes seen by the Britannia Ironworks Clock Tower? (If not, click here!)

I wanted to make a fabric picture and I had been inspired by the book Applique Art by Abigail Mill. So Crafty 8 Year Old and I painted a sky using fabric paint on calico and some sponges:

A photo posted by Helen Lindop (@helenlindop) on

At that time, Emma of the Crafty Mrs Noah group introduced me to needle felting, which is where you use a barbed needle to make roving (unspun wool) into felt by stabbing it repeatedly. I didn't even know that was possible until that point, but I had a go and thought I could make some very effective trees to add to my applique.

The problem was that the woolly trees were so effective that the applique building looked flat and boring in comparison. What if I felted the building, too?

I needed to transfer the outline of the building onto my backing felt, so I used a transfer pen designed for embroidery on the back of some tracing paper. I didn't know if the pen would work on felt, but it did!

I couldn't quite believe how well it worked, actually:

A photo posted by Helen Lindop (@helenlindop) on

Then it was a question of 'colouring in' the building using wool fibres. I mixed orange and brown felt together to create the sides of the building in the shadows, and fluffy trim to make the decorative parts of the building:

A photo posted by Helen Lindop (@helenlindop) on

I'll tell you about the rest of this project in part 2.

Thursday, 9 June 2016

Metal crochet. Kind of.

(You might like to read this post first)

As I was looking through the old pumps, turbines and engines that used to be made at the Queen's Engineering Works in Bedford, I wondered if I could make a picture of them in crochet.

I started off with one 'pipe' then added the fluted bit at the end, then the wheel used for opening and closing the valve. Yes, I think this might actually work!

I carried on like this, adding bits and pieces, rearranging them, fitting them together until I had something like a pump and turbine. I tried to make a fairly faithful replica of the pictures I found in the catalogues at Bedfordshire Archives - here's an example of the kind of pump and turbine I was working on.

And here's my work in progress:

A photo posted by Helen Lindop (@helenlindop) on

The picture was taking shape but I wanted to show what the machinery actually did. Could I crochet water? Let's see...

Yes, it looked like I could!

I've almost finished my this piece now, I just need to sew it to backing fabric and then mount that on a frame of some kind so it can be hung on a wall. I'll post a photo when it's finished.

Update: here's the finished item.

Soft fabric and heavy metal, part 2

(This continues from part 1.)

So I'd decided that I wasn't freaked out enough by the thought of exhibiting my (currently non-existent) artwork to pull out of the exhibition. And that I was going to do something on Bedford's engineering history. What now?

I had an idea of doing some kind of big collage and stuck down a few ideas...

I really hadn't a clue how to do a collage so it 'hung together' properly as a whole, so I started to Google industrial art and fabric collage to get some ideas.

I discovered Grayson Perry's tapestries (click here for examples) and thought they were fantastic. I'd heard of Grayson - hasn't everyone? - but had no idea of his work, so this was a great find. Aside from the work itself, I love the way he's doing something you don't usually see in textiles - modern, political, angry in places. I'm used to textiles being practical or decorative and this was something different.

It also hit me that I didn't really have the skill or experience to pull off a decent collage and I'd be better zooming in on one aspect instead of trying to cover a lot of ideas in one go.

During my Googling it became apparent that I needed to decide what I wanted to say and then remove anything that distracted from that. To decide my goal, in other words. This made things much easier as I dropped the 'what the hell am I doing I'm not an artist' mindset and thought about what I wanted to say and achieve instead. Here's what I came up with:

- I want to show people a snapshot of Bedford's proud industrial past, which is actually surprisingly recent but all-but forgotten.

- I want to try some new techniques, learn some new things, meet some new people.

That made it seem much more doable.

After that I tinkered around with my paper collage and found there were two things that attracted me:

- The machinery in the old photos of the Queen's Engineering Works. Could I 'do' this hard metal in a soft fabric?

- The Britannia Iron Works Clock Tower. It's one of the very few signs of Bedford's engineering past that's still visible. I believe it narrowly escaped being demolished a few years ago and it's now crumbling in places. What did it look like when i was first built? And what had it seen in the years since then?

A photo posted by Helen Lindop (@helenlindop) on

I mentioned to Kathryn and Rachel at the Beds Archives that I was looking at WH Allen and the Britannia Ironworks and they said I might like to take a look at one of their blogs on Bedfordshire at war, where I found this photo of the Britannia clock tower taken in 1865. What struck me is that the clock tower has hardly changed in 150 years, but everything around it has changed dramatically. It was an industrial time-traveller. I could definitely do something with this.

So now I was feeling much less overwhelmed and I had a plan. Time to start work!

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

Soft fabric and heavy metal, part 1

Back in March I read about a textile craft event called Weaving Narratives that was being held at Bedfordshire County Archives. It sounded interesting and they were offering to show us around their stack room (I'm a bit nosy), so I signed up.

Here's the stack room, by the way. I think it's the map shelf...

Amazing, eh?

There are tons of even more amazing documents inside but unfortunately I'm not allowed to share them for copyright reasons.

It turned out that this little craft project was filled with proper artists, which was frankly quite intimidating since I'd barely picked up a needle in twenty years. Especially as we were asked to create a piece of artwork inspired by something we'd find in the county archives and then display it in an exhibition in the Autumn. My big fear was that my effort would look embarrassingly bad next to the proper art!

But it's a fascinating project and the enthusiasm of the archives staff was infectious. And when else was I ever going to get a chance to have my art in an exhibition? I had to do it, even though it was taking me outside my comfort zone.

So the next question was what on earth was I going to make? The challenge with the archives is that there's just so much material there, it's hard to decide. But while having a chat with Emma from the Crafty Mrs Noah craft group I hit upon the idea of using Bedford's engineering past.

To read more, please head over to the Weaving Narratives blog...

I'll add another update here on my blog when I get a chance, so pop back soon!

The year I learned to crochet

I started to learn to crochet just over a year ago (March 2015) and that means I've made a lot of hats and scarves in the last year. My first scarf was the one where it felt like it was two stitches forward and one back with a lot of swearing in between, but by September I was able to make this one that I don't mind being seen in on the school run.
A photo posted by Helen Lindop (@helenlindop) on

Back in January I made this one for the local prem baby unit:

A photo posted by Helen Lindop (@helenlindop) on

All the members of the Crafty Mrs Noah craft group made one or two each and we ended up with about 60 in total.
Crafty 8 Year Old wanted to learn too so I taught her to double crochet and she's been making hats and scarves for her toys ever since, as well as a hat and scarf for herself. She didn't use a pattern for her hat and just kind of freestyled it. I thought that was really clever and then discovered freeform crochet was actually a real thing! I've picked up a book (Freeform Crochet and Beyond by Renate Kitkpatrick). More on that in a later post...

Getting back into crafting after almost 20 years

I was always making stuff as a kid, then when I got to about 11 I started doing a lot of machine sewing (I never had the patience to do it by hand). That carried on until my early twenties and then I pretty much stopped doing anything creative. Three people have inspired me to get back into making over the last couple of years.

The first is my 8 year old who constantly has at least 3 craft projects on the go, and reminded me of the way I used to be.

The second is Emma Johnstone who has eased me back into making things by encouraging me to try lots of different crafts at her Crafty Mrs Noah group in Bedford (anyone for wet felting?!) and teaching me to crochet. Not forgetting all the other members of Mrs Noah, too.

 The third is Janet who teaches sewing but I've never actually made it to one of her courses (sorry - guess I needed to get my confidence back!) But her blog and seeing her flow of new creations on the school run has definitely inspired me to get sewing again.

Here's a bag I finished a couple of months ago. it's upcycled from a pair of old jeans and has some hand embroidery, crochet and a lining. I couldn't use a pattern because I had to work with the size of the jeans I had, so I'm pleased I managed to fit it all together myself. It's a little more embellished than I originally planned because crafty then-7 year old gave me some things to sew on it and I couldn't say no, especially when she crocheted me a flower just for this bag.