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Take an Old Stripy Scarf…Upcycling Knitwear

Every week I visit four charity shops in my home town of Hexham, and go behind the scenes to my bins where waste knitwear is collected. I sort through the woollies, and take what I can use in my upcycling. I’m very particular, and only a certain gauge of knitwear will do, and only the best quality and colours make it into my basket.

Every now and then I get real gems, like the week I got several Fairisle jumpers and made this coat, resplendent in patterning: (incidentally, this coat now resides in America )

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The other week I pulled a stripy scarf out of my bin at Tynedale Hospice – I love getting stripes, and a scarf is so useful! But oh my goodness! The colours in this one were absolutely fabulous! Here it is in close up:

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I soon set about making piles of jumpers and seeing what I had in these colours on the shelves. I had a couple of felted jumpers for bodices – one purple, the other a deliciously soft green cashmere.

The scarf I decided would make excellent hood trims, and indeed it did! Two of them, with spare left over for pockets.  I took this photo one evening, and just love it!

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I sometimes make coats without hoods – I often say there’re like Marmite, you either love ’em or hate ’em! This stripy scarf and the possibility of using all those colours in a hood was just too good to pass on.

These coats deserved hoods, and hoods they got!

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I’ve got the Green Gathering coming up as my next event, and I’m taking these beauties with me if they don’t sell first – in fact, I’m going to keep this short and sweet again this week as I need to hot foot it up to the woolly garret where another coat is in the making.

I’ve love and leave you with some more photos of the two coats that came about as a result of a stripy scarf in the rag bin, and also give you the link to the sweatercoat section of the shop so you can find out more about them and do some window shopping. – Actual shopping is of course very welcome too!!

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Zerowaste – Upcycling, upcycling and upcycling some more.

By now you probably know that I upcycle preloved wool jumpers and make all sorts from them, with the aim of keeping textiles out of landfill and from going to waste. I won’t go into details of all the products I create from recycled knitwear – you can head over to the online shop to see for yourselves what I’ve been making lately. Upcycling means to take waste and turn it into something more useful or aesthetically more pleasing. This is hopefully what I’ve done with this petite purple sweatercoat made from recycled jumpers, which I finished a week ago. This is not the end of the story however. I want to show how I take waste, and upcycle it until there is nothing left to waste at all. Zerowaste – literally!
purple-sweatercoat

The panels and sleeves for this coat were made from lambswool jumpers rescued from Hawick knitwear when the factory went into administration. You can read what I wrote about that in a previous blogpost entitled ‘The Sad Demise of Hawick Knitwear’. The bodice is a very shrunken cashmere jumper rescued from the rag bag in a local charity shop.

So, when I’ve finished making my sweatercoats, do I throw the scraps away? Not on your nellie! Those long enough, and especially any spare sleeves get cut into strips to make armwarmers:

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It doesn’t stop there either! I still had some grey pieces left over, too short for armwarmer strips, but as long as they are 10cm each way, they can be cut into squares and used to make a cushion. I grabbed a felted pink cashmere jumper and cut off the button band to make the fastening on this cushion and hey presto, a lovely lambswool and cashmere cushion made from my waste. That’s zerowaste in my book!

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But it doesn’t stop there. Left with a pile of scraps that are now diminishing in size, and are no longer useful to me, I pass them onto my friends who are proggy matters. For those of you who are not familiar with proggy matting or proddy matting as it is called in other parts, this is a northern tradition where scraps of wool fabric are poked through a piece of hessian with a ‘prodder’. Ali Rhind explains in much better in her video on Hooky and Proggy Matting. If anyone is coming along to Woolfest in June, I’ll have a table loaded with bags of woolly scraps for you. I’ve also written a blogpost about this ‘The Art of Proggy Matting’
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So there you have it – upcycling, upcycling and upcycling some more. Zerowaste, and helping keep textiles out of landfill.

 

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The Sad Demise Of Hawick Knitwear

A year ago, on my birthday to be precise, I drove my van up the beautiful A68 through Northumberland to Carters Bar on the border of England and Scotland, took a left, and meandered through beautiful scenery to the town of Hawick, home of the Scottish knitwear industry, or so the sign told me as I drove into town.

I’d sent an email to Hawick Knitwear, a few weeks before, asking what they did with their waste. My business is about upcycling waste and saving it from landfill, and I was in need of another supplier of knitwear. The guys there couldn’t have been more accommodating. They had even raided the secretary’s stash of chocolate biscuits as it was my birthday. I had a meeting with the head of sales and the waste manager, and showed them some of my woolly wares. I took with me a sweatercoat, some little ponchos and baby blankets, and the men looked at these appreciatively, and although a far cry from the smart jumpers made by Hawick Knitwear, they made encouraging noises about my work.

Up until then, they explained, the waste had been sold to carpet manufacturers where it was shredded, but if I was prepared to negotiate a good price, then they would save some garment panels for me. I was also taken into a large stockroom and asked if I could do anything with ten boxes of lambswool jumpers without head holes. Bingo! I had found myself a supplier of the finest lambswool and cashmere.

For the next year, thanks to the waste from Hawick knitwear, I made dozens and dozens of ponchos, bedspreads, baby blankets and throws, and sold these at events such as Hexham Farmer’s Market,  Woolfest and The Green Gathering as well as online from my website and through social media. Partly thanks to Hawick knitwear, my business flourished during 2015.

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I let my stock of materials dwindle over Christmas to make way for family staying as the guest room has previously been piled high with boxes of Hawick’s waste knitwear. In the new year I emailed Hawick to arrange another delivery, as I needed to hit the ground running and get making again. To my horror I got a reply to my email saying Hawick had gone into administration, and the guy I had been dealing with was now unemployed.

I phoned the administrators and was told that they were trying to find another buyer for the business, but if I wanted to register an interest to buy any stock, they’d be in touch in due course. A month later, I was headed for the last time, up to Hawick to buy half a tonne of waste knitwear that had been taken off the machines. The factory workers had only been given four hours notice of the factory closing when they had gone back after new year, and so had just walked away, jumpers half finished on machines.

I had been offered four tonnes of waste knitwear, but after doing the sums with my accountant husband, we decided the rental of a storage unit for that would amount to ten year’s worth of knitwear for me, wasn’t affordable. As it is, I’ve had to rent a storage container, and now have enough knitwear for the next two years.

I find it so sad that this major employer in the small town of Hawick has gone. It is devastating for the town and the workforce. The chap who met me last week had been with the company for thirty-nine years, and both his sons had also worked there. I’m sure the reasons for its closure are many and complex, but the question of cheap clothing manufactured abroad by people living and working in shocking condition must come into play. Luxury knitwear made in Britain would appear to be a dwindling market.

I went into the factory to collect my knitwear, and found it’s emptiness and silence a stark contrast to the bustling and happy place it had been before. So sad, and my heart goes out to all those who have lost their jobs, and to their families for whom it will have a knock on effect.

I do hope the remaining stock will go to a good cause if it isn’t sold. I would hate to think of it going into landfill when there are refugees in desperate need of clothing. I think I maybe should email the administrators once and find out what is happening to any unsold stock. There are after all, containers heading off to Syria and Dunkirk that could be filled with Hawick’s waste.

So I now need to get busy. I have a container full of waste knitwear to work with and four boxes of beautiful thread that I managed to save from the skip. I’m looking forward to making lots of beautiful things with the fabulous lambswool. I will also have to be mindful of the fact that I’ve lost a supplier in the long term, and will need to find another.

 

 

 

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Working with Recycled Wool – A Few Questions Answered

Morning! It’s a bit of a damp squib out there, and all intentions of getting out on my bike have gone out the window, so I thought I’d stay in the warmth of my bed, laptop on knee, and write this week’s blog. I get asked lots of questions about working with wool, so I thought I’d try and answer some of them here by going through the processes involved in making clothes, soft furnishings and accessories from recycled wool knitwear.

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I posted this photo on my Facebook page this week of wool squares all ready cut out and waiting to be made into a bedspread, and a few questions arose from this which have prompted this week’s blog. They are also a scrummy colour, so hopefully this week’s blog will look pretty as well as be informative!

I’ve already written about how wool jumpers can be sourced in a previous blogpost, ‘Finding Jumpers to Upcycle’. So I’ll start with the process from when I bring the jumpers home.

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First of all everything is washed. I sort into vague colour piles washing all light jumpers together. It’s not that I’ve ever had a problem with colours running, but you can get wool fibres from one jumper sticking to another. I’ve learnt this the hard way when washing beautiful cream jumpers only to find them covered in black fluff. I wash everything on a 40 degree mixed load with a 1200 spin. Much of today’s woollen knitwear is machine washable and will come out pretty much as it went it, but without the ‘eau de old lady’ pong that can come from charity shops. Other woollies, will felt and shrink and these are just perfect for making bodices for jackets and sweatercoats. As I’ve said before, the bodice needs to be sturdy enough to support the weight of the rest of the garment. This is also the main reason why I don’t make clothes to order, as what size bodices I get to work with very much depend on what I find and how it comes out of the wash. I don’t own a tumble drier, never have done – an unneccessary drain on the planet’s energy resources if you ask me! I either hang up the jumpers outside or dry on racks indoors. Although at times my house ends up looking like Widow Twanky’s laundry!

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When I first starting making things from cut out squares I painstakingly cut all the squares with a pair of scissors using a cardboard square as a template. I hadn’t heard of a cutting wheel, and spent hours and hours cutting each square with my scissors. I even employed the kids and friends of the kids’ to cut out squares for me as it was just taking me too darn long.

Then I discovered a cutting wheel – brilliant! Along with a cutting mat and large ruler with grids marked out cutting became so much easier. Think pizza slicer but for fabric. A word of warning however, these are ridicuously sharp and cutting should always be done away from fingers.

The first task when cutting jumpers is to disect the jumper, cutting away the seams. The beauty of these cutting wheels is that more than one layer of jumper can be cut through at a time, saving precious time. I save the bottom rib bands for making the tops of armwarmers and baby legwarmers.

This brings me nicely back to my cut out squares, and the commonest question I get asked when speaking at meetings.

‘Don’t the squares fray when you’ve cut them out?’

No they don’t is the quick answer. I only use manufactured wool knitwear of medium weight. I don’t use handknits and I don’t use chunky knits. This is mainly because they just don’t work with an overlocker (or serger for those of you across the pond). The cut out pieces just sit there, good as gold, waiting for their turn to be stitched.

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When I first started woolly pedlaring, four years ago, I started with a domestic overlocker. You do need an overlocker if you are to sucessfully join knitwear together. A domestic overlocker is a great place to start, but will only cope with fairly lightweight materials. I started by making arwarmers, and soon got the upcycling bug and moved on to making coats and jumpers. It was pretty evident fairly early on that my domestic overlocker was just not up to the job. The smoke coming out of the back after eight hours use a day, and the bunched up stitches where I’d been trying to sew three thicknesses of jumper were a clear indication.

My this point I’d left my teaching job and was seriously considering going self employed. I used my final payment from teaching to set myself up with an industrial overlocker. This is a marvellous piece of kit, and is still going strong. It copes admirably with hours and hours of sewing at a time, and sews through jumpers like soft butter.

Getting the hand of threading can be a right pain, but You Tube has some great tutorials. One top tip I will give you, is to put a different colour thread on each of the four bobbins while you are learning how to thread it. That way you will soon understand what each thread’s job is.

So, now let’s get on with some sewing!

 

Your next decision will be whether to have the seams on the front or on the back. It’s amazing how many men cannot handle the seams on the outside! It’s not exclusively men, but when I sell at fairs, it’s so often the men that comment on my work being ‘the wrong way round’. I do sew with seams on the inside sometimes, but I love the wiggle and added texture that comes from putting seams on the outside.

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This woo bedspread which I’ve just finished for a customer has seams on the back. She wanted a smooth finish. The squares have all been been cut into six inch squares and to make a large double bedspread you will need 360 squares.

I then sew the squares into strips. Each strip has 18 squares, and I made 20 strips.

I then sew up all the strips, and then sew all the way around the perimter of the bedspread. The overlocker will not finish off the end, and you will be left with a ‘chain’ of stitches. Just get a needle and thread and sew this in by hand. The beauty of making a bedspread in this way is that all ends will be stitching in apart from just one at the end, making the hand sewing minimal. As you can imagine, this is a very different matter with something like a handkerchief hem which has dozens of points.

So here we are, one double bedspread. I shall be delivering this to Matilda next week. Let’s hope she likes it!

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Of course I make all sorts of other products from recycled wool and not just using squares. I’ll leave you to browse the shop to see what else can be made.

Thanks for reading this week’s blog! I’m sure you have many other questions – ask away! I’m more than happy to help. 🙂

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