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After 30 years working with cloth, I find myself increasingly drawn to wool in fibre form. I thought some research was in order, so trotted off to the craft magazines section at the Wellington public library. I was immediately drawn to the image of a rug made of little woollen squares. The article described the rug as being the product of a “Weave-It” loom, a hand-held wooden frame with metal pins along each edge. It also recalled the perfect comforting warmth provided by a such a rug – then ended by saying the looms are no longer made and nearly impossible to find in second hand stores.
I decided this was a wool fibre technique I had to try, so I turned to the internet to track down one of these looms. On www.masez.com I found an image of the sort of rug I had read about in the library, and a picture of the “famous hand loom”. So simple, frugal and functional, and last manufactured in the time before zip codes. The more remote my chances of acquiring such a loom became, the more my longing increased.
Then I found www.eloomanation.com, complete with .pdf files of 1936 pattern books for garments made from four inch squares. The site was running a competition; the prize: an original Weave-it loom set, with both four inch and two inch frames (and a Hello Kitty tin!).
Given the quality of the weaving on the site, I thought my chance of winning this prize was slim. Nothing for it but to trawl the shops. By now I had heard of plastic versions, and had seen ones with wooden and metal pins. I wasn’t entirely sure what to ask for. Hooray for Goldings Handcrafts, stockists of a recreation of the Weave-it loom, from the Lacis Company. It is fairly primitive: a square of high density polystyrene, a vial of metal pins, and a card of graph paper.
The packaging also included a most appealing little pamphlet with instructions for a matinee jacket and a doll, which felt more achievable than a swagger coat…
Following the ‘walk before you run’ principle, I made a cushion cover! I used two solid colours and one variegated in various combinations. My edges are not as neat as the ones illustrated, so I rediscovered the joys of the crochet hook as a means of firming things up.
And that crochet hook led me to thinking about vintage crochet patterns (having made a truly horrible scarf and a slightly misshapen beanie in the first flush of excitement). These are not as common as the knitting patterns so wittily celebrated by Douglas Lloyd-Jenkins at the Hanging by a Thread symposium (see Fran’s summary here), but equally fabulous.
Once I have woven enough four inch squares for a coat, I am threatening to crochet this suit.
I’m Kerryn and I’m a vintage fabric-aholic. I visit op shops frequently. I get to jumble sales before the doors open. My heart leaps when I catch a glimpse of something promising amongst the dross. I’ve got a set of drawers and a filing cabinet crammed with the fruits of my addiction. Sound familiar?
While most of my stuff hibernates behind closed drawers most of the time, occasionally I’ll get a length out and consider what I can make with it. My collection is not quite an archive – while I’m unlikely to alter made-up pieces and definitely shy away from using my pristine vintage oven cloths for their intended purpose, I don’t consider pieces of fabric untouchable. Still, it’s hard to get the scissors out because there’s no going back once that first cut is made!
Cushions are a good way of using and displaying vintage fabric. They are easy to make and don’t require too many cuts, which is important if you’re loath to disturb the pattern of the fabric by cutting through it.
Some of these I’ve covered myself, others I’ve bought made-up. The colourful one in the middle was embroidered in wool by my very talented aunt Sheryl Faul. These are the ones I’ve made:
These are all barkcloth fabric. Another way of displaying vintage fabric without getting scissor-happy is to make a wall-hanging or to treat it as a canvas. I bought a large piece of very boyish ’70s barkcloth years ago and I’m really glad I held onto it because it makes an awesome addition to my young son’s bedroom wall.
This was one piece I couldn’t bear to cut. I commissioned my woodworker partner to make the recycled timber frame and he did an excellent job. The fabric is held fast onto the inside of the frame by thin lengths of timber so no stapling or gluing was required.
I just hope this imagery doesn’t seep into Amos’ unconsciousness and cause him to become a boy racer in later life! I’m not remotely interested in motorbikes but the gorgeous colours, well-realised pattern and great sense of movement won me over.
Amos can sit in style in this little metal-frame chair I made a new seat for. Cowboys and Indians are not in particularly good odour these days but let’s not impose our contemporary views on vintage!
Lightshades require more cutting and sewing, depending on the frame used. You’ve also got to be careful that your precious fabric doesn’t get too warm and go up in smoke! I imagine that ready-made lightshades are probably treated to make them heat resistant but (touch wood) I’ve not had any trouble in this department.
This is another barkcloth number. The pattern makes me think of kiwi feathers with a hint of peacock thrown in. Not sure of the date – my guess is 1950s. It’s made out of the same piece as one of the cushions above. I love this pattern and I stored the fabric for many years before I used it.
I made these lightshades for my open plan kitchen and lounge with uncovered frames I found at the tip shop in Wellington. I laid the frames onto some newspaper and made a pattern by drawing around one panel. I then cut out a series and sewed them together. I didn’t have enough fabric (or patience) to match the pattern up, and in any case the shape of the panels would have made this difficult. The pattern is an abstract one so I think I got away with joining unrelated pieces together. You could say I’m reinterpreting the pattern.
They are actually upside-down lamp shades which works really well – they hover beautifully and cast interesting light shapes on the ceiling. On the odd occasion I’m driving up our street at night I can see them through the windows floating like little spaceships.