Thursday 7 June RAG RUG TECHNIQUES Sue Clow
Learn the traditional rag rug hooking and prodding techniques. Experiment with different materials and tools. Take home a small finished item and lots of ideas for working on larger projects at home.
Level: Beginner. Cost: £30, plus materials: £3.50. Maximum number of students: 8
Please CLICK HERE to complete the contact form to enquire about booking or to ask Sue for further information.
On behalf of Mary and myself, I wish you all a wonderful New Year filled with abundance, joy, and treasured moments. May 2012 be your best year yet!
Best wishes, Sue.
Recycling and Pointillism
Our work with textiles can be more exciting if we aim to blend small quantities of many shades and tints of closely related colours rather than use large areas of a single hue. Using of recycled materials and scraps will encourage this way of working – the eye will mix colours for you. The impressionist painters led the way with this approach.
Need for contrast
Choice of colour is very personal and you will probably find that your own discarded clothing will reflect your preferred palette. We tend to accumulate many items in the mid-value tones and have to make a conscious effort to collect the very light and dark fabrics that bring our work to life. Plenty of contrast is needed if designs are to read clearly from any distance.
New life by dying
We often have fabrics in our stash that we cannot imagine ever using but that are too good to throw away. Here over-dying can give them a new lease of life. It is possible to produce a large quantity of colour coordinated fabric suitable for say, a lively background. Put several, not quite matching, fabrics into the same dye pot to achieve a mixture that suggests you have spent many hours searching and collecting. Small quantities can be produced by heat setting dyes using yoghurt pots and an old microwave oven (kept for this purpose).
Wool is easy to dye
Wool is probably the most versatile material for floor rugs and felted jumpers are a favourite material. These can be dyed using acid dyes that usually come with their own mordants. Stock solutions can be made up that keep well
Give It A Go
Rag Art really encourages students to try dyeing their own fabrics. It is much easier than you think. The natural dyes are quite beautiful and somehow all seem to work well together. Start with onion skins for a range of yellows then look at some of the good books now added to our web site or that can be ordered from the library.
Natural Dyes ARE Wonderful
I really love the natural dyes which seem to have a lustre all of their own. However, I have to accept that dying is a skilled craft in its own right. It requires an investment of considerable time, knowledge and willingness to experiment to become accomplished. The colours from natural dyes are the result of many factors acting together. The time of year and conditions under which material is collected; temperature; ph of water (how acid or alkaline it is), mordant used, material being dyed etc. I am always pleased when I make the effort, but with natural dyes it is quite difficult to get the same results on another day so I have to admit to cheating, more than a little, for some acceptable and quicker results.
Commercial, Acid Dyes
Wool is my favourite material, whether it is in the form of yarn, knitted garments, woven fabric or even unspun fleece. It accepts acid dyes very easily to give deep, rich, colour. The simplest are now available with mordants included so that you can avoid the step of having to use chemicals to prepare your materials to accept the dye. This makes it very easy to apply colour in a variety of ways (a simple paint brush will suffice) and there are more easy ways to heat set this colour.
Also, Dye Silk and Old Tights
The same acid dyes will also dye silk, other protein fibres and nylon fabrics. (Try it on your old tights – you can remove most of the existing colour by simply boiling them with a little soap powder). If you over-dye greys, beiges and other dull fabrics you will get exciting, but slightly, muted new colours.
You must heed a few safety precautions but mixing the dye from its powder form into a liquid stock solution is probably the most ‘tricky’ part. If you do this out of doors or in a well ventilated room you should not experience any problems. It is sensible to work carefully – don’t ‘chuck’ the powder into a container causing dust to fly around as this could be an irritant to some people. Once you have your liquid dye, colours can be mixed like paint to give an almost infinite range. Staining your hands or floor is the biggest hazard. Clear your work area, keep special tools and containers just for dying, use rubber gloves, protect work surfaces and the floor and avoid eating, drinking or smoking while working with dyes.
Practice and Play for Success and Confidence
Do make some time, with a friend – this helps. Or, come on a workshop. You will be amazed at what you can achieve and once you can control getting the colours you want you won’t need nearly such large collections of fabrics. Of course that is a theoretical idea, as I have yet to meet a textile addict who can avoid accumulating more!
Colour for FREE
Still feeling nervous? Try getting hold of some strong coloured woollen garment say red or royal blue, coating is good for this. Just cut off a sleeve or some part (very scientific!) Put in an old saucepan and cover with water – add some soap powder and bring slowly to the boil. The colour will start to run and you can then add some white or cream wool to collect some of this colour. When this has taken up sufficient dye to give a colour you are happy with add a cup of white vinegar and ‘cook’ for 15 minutes more. Remove from pan and rinse well. Cake colourings and some children’s drinks will also dye some fabrics so there is nothing to be afraid of when using these. Natural dyeing using mordants IS more challenging but the results ARE worth the effort.
I was really impressed when I visited Eve Lambert in her studio, ‘Shilasdair’ on the Isle of Skye. Her naturally dyed yarns display the subtle colourings that can be achieved. Her book, co-authored with Tracy Kendall is generous in sharing their wide expertise. This new book by Search Press is excellent value at £12.99. It is full of hints, tips and illustrations that are well worth reading. Even if you intend to simplify some of the processes you will have your eyes opened to the exciting world of colour. I am now pleased to offer this book on my web site.
This is only Chapter I about dyeing. Colouring cottons and synthetics is another story. More later.
Firstly cut a long strip thus can be varied in width to give different effects. Width should also be varied according the thickness of the material with finer fabrics needing to be cut wider to stay in place.
Now cut these strips into short lengths according to depth of pile wanted. Suggest 3” as a start. Just cut a few and try it to see if it gives the effect you want. Cutting straight across will give an even, tailored look while cutting on the slant will give a more shaggy look. (See samples)
Sharp scissors will do a good job while you are assessing whether you enjoy the craft. The process can be speeded up considerably by using a rotary cutter, ruler and self healing board. Don’t cut too much of any one fabric until you try it – you can’t stick it together again if it’s not right. This sounds obvious but it is the most common error.
For even more variation the straight cut pieces can be shredded. This is best done after they are in place for an extremely shaggy look.
Finally try out a variety of petal shapes to produce a wide range of flowers.
Since both hooking and proddy techniques have to begin by preparing materials ready for use, I will explore a few ideas to make this task easier. You can manage entirely with any sharp pair of scissors but do avoid using these for cutting paper or they won’t stay sharp for long. Some synthetics will also blunt keen cutting edges so I reserve an old pair for such use. (Knife grinders and scissor sharpeners are not always easy to find but some robust scissors will sharpen up fairly well even with the gadgets made for home use) I find long blades help and most of the scissors supplied by Rag Art are spring loaded so that there is less strain on the hand when a large amount of cutting has to be done.
Which way should I cut the material?
Strips are strongest if cut on the straight of the grain. If you have new cloth this will be parallel with the selvedge. At first, this direction may not be so easy to determine when you are using recycled fabric as you may have a jumble of irregular shapes and sizes. Usually unuseable fabric from seams, welts, pockets and facings is cut out and discarded and the good fabric washed and ironed before cutting. This is good practice not only because it ensures it is perfectly clean. (One wearing only could attract moth) but it also tightens the fibres slightly which reduces fraying, This is particularly true for woollen fabrics. Knits can be lightly felted by washing on a hot wash ( with a heavy towel or plimsole to agitate the load). If for example you have a sleeve to cut up, fold it in half from shoulder to wrist and the fold line will be on the straight of the grain. This sounds complicated but you will very soon get your eye in. If you were measuring your bust/chest you would place the tape measure around the body and you DONT want to cut knitwear in that direction as it might unravel. Again you want to cut from neck to hem or waist to hem on skirt or trousers to be ‘ on the straight of the grain’ or strongest direction.
Using a rotary Cutter
Rag rugcrafters have now speeded up this cutting task by using rotary cutters. With the help of a wide ruler with exactly spaced line markings and a self healing cutting mat the strips are quickly and accurately prepared. In fact it is very tempting to cut up too much before you have tested a strip to see if the width gives the effect you want. If you cut it slightly too wide it will be difficult to work with and make your work lumpy. Too narrow and it will tend to be less secure. This could waste your time and materials. Even experienced hookers try out new fabrics before cutting too much. You can’t stick it together again!!
The cutter Rag Art provides is made by Kai in Japan. We had to persevere to get hold of it but after 8 years of stocking this tool are continually pleased with it. It has a rubber handle thus comfortable to use but it is it’s safety feature that has provided a real success story. There is a locked position but even when this is released the blade does not advance until pressure is applied by pressing it down onto the cutting mat. As soon as you reduce this pressure the blade is protected again. Thus, even if the tool gets hidden under fabric it is safe. Some models by other manufacturers require you to remember to switch the blade into the safety position every time you use it. The Kai blade is protected automatically.
Like everything else there is a knack to using a rotary cutter. It looks so simple that people can be very put off it they don’t find it easy to make a clean cut on their first attempt. You might be lucky but if you have problems check the points below. Wool is the easiest to cut and synthetics the most difficult so I suggest you cut your teeth using wool and don’t feel daft about asking an experienced friend so that you too get the knack. Start with a small piece of fabric and have success with short cuts before trying a longer length. The fabric is trapped under the ruler to hold it still, usually with the left hand while the right hand guides the cutter by running it along the ruler.
1.Put your cutting board on a surface that is not too high. This will depend on your height but you want to be able to swing your weight over it. Try out some different heights and this will make sense.
2.Make sure the fabric to be cut is not wrinkled. Often it is less slippery and easier to hold down firmly with your ruler if the material is folded in half with the most slippery surface on the inside.
3. Always push the cutter away from you. With a craft knife the opposite direction is more usual.
4. Start with cutter with its flat side against the ruler and a little way from the fabric so that you cut cleanly over the edge.
5. Cut steadily and deliberately swinging your weight over the cutter and listen to the sound it makes. You will very quickly learn to recognise when it has cut cleanly.
6. Once you are ready to make longer cuts the best tip to avoid the ruler slipping is to keep the ruler hand level with the cutter hand. This requires you to move your ruler hand once or twice while the cutting is in progress. Again this sounds tricky but it will soon make sense.
7. Some rulers have rough patches on the reverse side which helps grip the fabric. If not you can purchase small adhesive discs of sandpaper that do help.
8. Some people are a little nervous of these sharp cutters at first. You can purchase handles with suction grips to hold the ruler while you gain confidence. However, you will soon develop the knack and save many hours with the scissors.
9. The popular cutting mats will protect your furniture and magically do self heal. To care for them long term they are best stored flat and away from direct heat. Do not be tempted to iron over them, rest your coffee cup on them or leave them in a hot car or in the sun. If they get a bit scruffy there is a small tool that will rub the surface and bring it up like new again.
10. SIZE of strip. Usually we cut these 30 cms or more and the width will depend on the thickness of material and mesh size of your base fabric. as a guide if using a general purpose hook start with 1cm (3/8″) then adjust as described above. Try it out before cutting too much.
NB We have just received delivery of a larger cutter with 60 mm blade which is helpful for those of you preparing materials for groups. This model is £24.95 and not yet on the shop section of the web site.
I am most encouraged by the responses I have had via ‘comments on the blog’ and emails. Now, Yvonne Autie has reminded me I have seen the Bolivar she mentions and was impressed by its smooth operation. I had forgotten its name and it was one of those things on my list. As she said the largest cutter was ¼” which is considered fine in the UK but ‘primitive’ in the USA. I agree with Yvonne that the folding is an important part of the technique when cutting with a rotary cutter which as promised we will look at in more detail.
I also realise the lovely rug that has been on my website made by Tara Tucker from California had strips prepared with a Bolivar.
Bolivar have brought out two new machines one portable and one with interchangeable cutters that now go up to ½” in size. This obviously increases the number of cutters required to cover all the sizes (most people have a preferred range so would not require them all).
I have been in touch with the company and am very impressed by their helpful and prompt responses to my questions. The best endorsement comes from Heather Ritchie who already uses one and says she would like to treat herself to a second. I understand the cutters don’t blunt easily and the key to success lies in keeping the cutters lint free, for which a brush is supplied.
I have decided to try out the Triple Based Cutter and have been advised that shipping to the UK is about $100. Vat, duty and handling would be about £94 in addition to the price of the machine.
There is plenty of helpful information on their website including: clear pricing; cutter sizes; a short video of the cutter in operation; a downloadable manual and also a video showing how the cutters are changed. You can also sit back and enjoy a very comprehensive slide show or rugs made with strips cut on the Bolivar – you could add your own masterpiece one day.
I am now cutting lots of strips to match the cutter sizes available in an attempt to second guess which will be the most useful. (I guess that is the hardest decision to be made at $160 (£100) for each size. I can see that I will still probably use the rotary cutter a great deal but it should save considerable time preparing material for large finer projects.
Will let you know how I get on.
This wonderful Christmas tree is made entirely from Harris Tweed by Yvonne Roberts. She lives on the Island of Harris in a beautiful but isolated spot with the most breath-taking sea views. Yvonne keeps very busy despite being in considerable pain much of the time awaiting a major operation. As you can see she has many creative ideas and an instinctive flair for using colours. Yvonne loves the exciting colour combinations found in the wider range of Harris Tweeds. (I expect you know that these are woven on the island from local and UK wool, also spun on Harris). This unique product is even more appreciated since being under threat by a change of ownership of the biggest mill. The plan was to reduce the range to 5/6 tweeds which would have been a great loss to us all and affected the livelihood of many islanders. I am pleased to say that this ‘dastardly’ plan has been thwarted. Do read more about it.
The tree is about 65cms high and held up by a dowel rod inserted into a circular wooden base by Yvonne’s supportive husband. It was all done using the rugger/bodger tool with the tweed being washed before using to felt it slightly – this helps prevent fraying. As it was an experimental project, time taken was not recorded but we are promised more information on the refined methodology in time for next Christmas.
If you don’t feel up to putting in all this effort yourself then for around £350 Yvonne could be persuaded to part with her fabulous tree – it is currently on display on the Isle of Harris.
You can contact Yvonne Roberts at firstname.lastname@example.org
Many thanks, Yvonne for generously sharing this with us.
PS – Yvonne had asked about cloth strippers to speed up preparing the strips for her next project. The information is posted underneath – the information may be useful to many others too.
In the USA and Canada various makes of hand operated machines are used regularly for quickly, accurately and neatly cutting cloth by simply turning a handle. They work by feeding the fabric under metal dies that slice the cloth into continuous strips of a predetermined width. They are not widely used in the UK – people do buy them imagining they will save time but they often end up unused at the back of a cupboard or appear for sale on ebay. Why should this be so when they are so popular abroad?
There are two main reasons. 1. In the USA new yardage of pure wool is widely used whereas recycling a variety of materials is more traditional in the UK. Reused materials may be of unknown composition and irregular in shape and size. The dies that cut the fabric are expensive to replace and although they are not easily blunted by pure wool they can quickly loose their sharpness if you cut synthetic materials. Some dies can be sharpened by sending them back to the maker but only perhaps once (See Fraser’s web site. www.fraserrugs.com) It is easy to feed new yardage through the machine – but irregular, small pieces can be quite fiddly and slow. 2. The tradition in the US is to use much finer strips which they measure in 32ths of an inch. Thus a No. 2 cut is 2/32 (or 1/16th)) of an inch . A die for this size would cut probably 8 strips at a time. A no 4 cut is 4/32 (or 1/8) of an inch and so on up to 8/32ths (1/4 of an inch) To change the width you need to change the die and the wider the cut the less strips at a time you get with most models. The rule for size of cuts varies with the manufacturer above the ¼” size and cuts of ½ “ and above can be differently labelled by different makers. Well known brands are Fraser, Risby, Townsend and Bliss but there are others. I understand that the Townsend Cutter is quite easy to change the die but to purchase the facility for 5 different widths would cost over £650 plus Vat plus carriage so you would need to use it frequently to justify the cost. Before spending this sort of money I would advise trying to find a cloth cutter second hand but be aware that if it has been regularly used the dies may need replacing Thus it is important to analyse exactly what cuts you would want to make before ordering any machine. If you were using all wool and 1/16 cuts throughout a cutting machine would obviously be a boon. However, if you are using a mixture of materials and thus varied widths of cut you are probably better with a good rotary cutter, ruler and mat with a generous supply of new blades as available in my shop for example.
Many of us let our designs evolve as we go so do not plan in advance how much of any colour or width we will want. Rather than set up a machine it is probably quicker and easier to cut a trial strip with a rotary cutter or even sharp scissors. This may not be the most efficient way but IS what tends to happen in practice. If you are one of the few people who do mostly use new wool cloth of even thickness so that you mostly cut to a uniform width then you could be pleased by a purchase of a cloth cutter. If so I would recommend buying direct from the manufacturer.