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Archive for the ‘Crafty’ Category

Yes, we’re all being told to make do and mend and embrace craftiness. But actually, making stuff yourself often isn’t cheap. So let’s hear it for Regina de Búrca, who offers a guide to being crafty on a budget.

I come from a long line of women who knit, sew and crochet. My forebears’ sole purpose of making things was to saving money. My grandmother’s Aran jumpers were undoubtedly beautiful yet their main function was a practical one, while my mother was a prolific dressmaker who made everything from our ‘good room’ curtains to my Communion dress. She taught me how to sew so that I could make clothes and repair them. But by the time I grew up, culture had turned disposable and the importance of skills she taught me had dwindled.

In the past, craft was often a necessity, not a hobby.

It wasn’t until my grandmother’s death in 2002 that I became interested in craft work. When we had the heart-breaking task of packing away her things, I was reminded of the significant role crafting had played in her life. We found her ‘work box’ – a hand-decorated box containing a wealth of supplies, neatly stored away with a half-finished jumper and blanket. I decided I couldn’t let her legacy go to waste and so I took them all home with me.

My grandmother’s forte was crocheting; something I’d had little experience of. When I went online to find resources to teach myself properly, I discovered that the world of handicraft had changed dramatically. Once an old-fashioned, staid pursuit, the art of crafting had become subverted; reclaimed by a dynamic, sassy generation who wanted to make things for the fun of it and had set up initiatives such as the ‘Stitch and Bitch’ groups.

I have been making things ever since then. But my approach to my hobby has changed over the years. At first it was simply a relaxing and rewarding way to spend my time. But as my salary has decreased and my expenses have gone up, I couldn’t justify spending more on say, making a jumper, than it would cost to buy one, so I gave up crafting as an overindulgent hobby.

However, it wasn’t long before I missed it. The last time I moved house, I happened upon my grandmother’s work box. I thought back to the times when making things was a good way to save money, so I became determined to find a way that I could save cash while doing something I loved so much.

It has been challenging – there will always be cheaper alternatives to homemade clothes and accessories. It is impossible to compete with mass-manufactured low-price products. But what I have found is that the items I make myself endure longer than many budget items I have purchased, so in the long term they can work out cheaper.
Here are my top resources for craft supplies on a budget. Some are online, others based in Dublin. I would be very interested to hear of any other budget retailers that I don’t know about, particularly around the rest of the country!

Wool

My first port of call for wool is always The Liberties Market in Dublin 8. It is the cheapest place I have found in the City, and the best choice when looking for wool for a pattern that requires a lot of the stuff.

The ‘special offers’ section of the Spring Wools website is a treasure trove of unusual wool and knitting kits. They deliver quickly, too!

Etsy’s knitting supplies section is useful.  it’s the most economical place I’ve found for specialist wool, I’ve found some really unique types here in the past.

I keep an eye on Aldi’s and Lidl’s special offers – they often sell bags of wool.

Charity shops can sometimes stock it – a friend of mine once bought five balls of mohair wool for two euro in a charity shop on Capel Street! Granted, I’ve scoured all the charity shops in the area to find a similar deal but haven’t… yet.

Fabric

The fabric wholesalers, TWI in Dublin’s Mountjoy Square is the most budget-friendly walk-in fabric shop I’ve found – . It sells an amazing range of fabrics.

http://www.fabrics-n-stuff.co.uk/ is the cheapest online fabric retailer I’ve used. The service is fast and the shipping costs not too painful, so needless to say, I’m a regular. Their range isn’t as extensive as most online sites, so often I enhance the fabric myself using batik techniques or sewing on collars or feature pieces (see vintage market in the ‘Other’ section, below).

The clearance page on Fabrics.com has some great deals. It has the best range of budget fabric that I’ve found online, so that excuses the postage costs… just.

The fabric supplies section on Etsy is an Aladdin’s cave of fabulous materials of all kinds -

The ‘Online Fabrics’ special offer page has some good deals – but with £10.99 postage costs regardless of weight of the package, I only use it for a big order no more than once a year. Don’t forget to request samples – they are 75p each for a fat quarter. Each customer gets a maximum of ten samples.

Best way to stock up on low cost fabric is to ask any backpackers you know who are jetting off – they can pick up stunning pieces in places like Morocco or India very cheaply.

Patterns

My all-time favourite craft site is at Craftown. From patterns to easy to follow illustrated guides, the website is a fantastic resource for all other types of crafting.

The member-only http://www.freepatterns.com/ is a wonderful site. Once you sign up (for free) you can download their patterns in PDF format. They also have a e-newsletter service, which provides interesting tips on various kinds of craft work.

The All Free Crafts site is an amazing compendium of patterns. And with no login to set up, it’s very accessible.

Other

K & M Evans sells supplies for teachers and sells a huge variety of paper and paint and lots of other crafting tools, for much cheaper than high street art shops

Vintage markets are great places to pick up buttons, collars and other pieces of fabric that can be repurposed. I keep track of the fairs in Dublin through Vintage Ireland’s Facebook page.

The Craft Council of Ireland has a ‘for sale’ section on its website that sells everything from pottery kilns to screen-printing frames.

The supplies section on Etsy is a super resource for all types of craft work.

Aldi and Lidl sell the cheapest sewing machines I’ve found. I got mine in Aldi a couple of years ago for 70 euro.

Freecycle is a great place to find crafting staples such as sewing machines and dressmakers’ dummies.

DIY stores can be the cheapest places to find glue, wire and paints.

One of the main ways I save on my craft budget is by pooling resources with my friends. By sharing things like sewing machines, Lomography cameras, tile cutters (for mosaics) and bookbinding tools, we have access to far more supplies than we would normally. And it follows that we all have a shared knowledge base, so we save on tuition fees as well.

Handicraft in itself has added value because it can be so fulfilling -there is something very satisfying about making your own things. It brings me joy look at what I have made over the years, in particular the jumpers and blankets co-crocheted by my grandmother and I. I hope it’s a tradition that will be kept up through this generation and future ones.

Regina de Búrca hails from the West of Ireland. She has been a Liverpool FC fan since the age of four. She writes books for teenagers and has a MA in writing for Young People from Bath Spa University. She currently lives in Dublin. Twitter: @Regina_dB

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The Click

Recently I’ve taken up knitting. Anyone who knew me in primary school and witnessed my epic battles with a pair of plastic needles and a ball of cheap wool would no doubt be horrified.

I was a dreadful knitter. I despised it. Many a night I spent in mute misery not being able to sleep from the sheer terror of knowing tomorrow morning I’d have to uncover my efforts from inspection. None of the neat, careful rows of pretty woollen squares carefully folded up in the tidy, sweet-smelling old Quality Street tins of my classmates for me, mine was a tear-stained, grime-smeared, twisted and tortured rag of knots stuffed in a Dunnes Stores bag.

The needles were that foul ‘bathroom’ shade of pink with large knobbly tops which I used to chew so much that the top part had faded to a milky white. They also made excellent accessories for cat poking and were covered in scratches. I’m ashamed to admit I still chewed them even after the cat had.

The wool was justifiably cheap – anything else would’ve been sacrilege in my paws. There were two colours, a ‘school paint bottle’ red (remember how that smelled?) and a dull navy. And yes, I chose them myself. I believe the plan was to knit a scarf for a doll or something equally basic but I simply never could get the hang of it. The woman with the unhappy job of teaching me was a lady by the name of Mrs Shannon and a kinder, more motherly woman may never have entered the teaching profession before or since, but nevertheless those Wednesday afternoons were torturous. Every week she would take up my knitting in amazement, sigh and with a gentle admonishment of ‘But how on earth did it get like THIS, Jude’ would calmly riiiiiiiiiiip back and ‘start me again’.

Years later while careering into adulthood, I joyfully set about putting my knitting needles and childish ways behind me. But somewhere along the line something changed and I found myself inexplicably looking at the delightfully goodie crammed craft shops with more than a little interest.  And then one summer, the combination of being unemployed and laughably cash-strapped resulted in my actually completing a wildly coloured, extraordinarily long if slighted wonky scarf.

But odder still was the realisation that not only could I remember the stitches with relative ease, finish the project without abandoning it in an almighty huff,  I was actually enjoying knitting.

Recent attempts at double point knitting (woolly sock time!) have been slow, but slowly successful having roped in my mother to teach me the basics. The poor woman gave up an entire weekend to teach me to turn a heel. And in glorious biting-off-more-than-I-can-chew form I’m slightly worried at just how many people I’ve promised to make socks for.

I’m still only learning, have monstrous problems following a pattern and am constantly undoing something I’ve worked on for an entire month but stick on Coronation St, hand me my needles and wool and I’m a happy girl. I don’t understand what exactly has fallen into place for me to enjoy knitting, but am heartedly glad something’s ‘clicked’ into place.

Oh yes, I did just go there.

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With These Hands

So unusual for me to finish knitting something that I had to photograph it.

There’s just something about October that makes me want to dig out the craftwork. I think it’s nothing more atavistic than the traditional autumn screen binge, actually – because I’m currently watching Mad Men (still wonderful, despite the broken tension), I,Claudius (because of feeling rather ancient worldy following a short September treat in Rome) and Escape into Night (elderly TV version of chilling childhood book Marianne Dreams). I’ve even – don’t start on me – watched The Apprentice on TV3. (But please tell me I didn’t hear Bill Cullen ask the male team “So what was it like being project managed by a woman?”) That’s a lot of sofa-time, and having spent my childhood doing my homework lying on my stomach in front of Diff’rent Strokes and All Creatures Great and Small, I’ve never been comfortable with the idea of watching television and not doing something else at the same time, so I’ve started thinking about the boxes of crafty crap up in the attic, and wondering whether to heave one down.

Lurking there are:

  1. the knitting box (needles, patterns, scraps of wool and my half-finished projects of Octobers gone: an out-of-date class timetable from the Yarn Room, hats, a jumper sleeve, a knitted patchwork quilt in blues, purples and greys which was going to be a. lovely and b. an heirloom)
  2. the jewellery box (semi-precious stones, pliers, silver wire – for a few  years a friend and I had weekly jewellery making sessions together, leading up to a Christmas sale, but we’ve been more diffident for the last couple of years about asking people round for mince pies and Babycham and then springing a till on them)
  3. the batik box (funny wax pens with brass reservoirs, and a great, split bag of wax pellets – currently sliding all over the attic like a monster version of the green lentils at the back of my dry food cupboard)
  4. the sewing box (sadly reduced to some gaudy fat quarters and a bag of recycled nametapes. God be with the days I made my own debs dress. Further into the eaves there’s the sewing machine – must, must, must watch online tutorials)
  5. the art box (lovely, lovely watercolours and that horribly expensive thick, grainy paper, a red bamboo roll of brushes and silky pencils)
  6. the card box (mainly for the youngstas, I couldn’t be more fed up with mini clothes pegs, stick-on shoes, dresses and prams, glue pens and all that general school artroom knick-knackery, give me a beautifully drawn or painted card any day)

Then instead of a cosy asbestos stuffing in the roof, we have several half-finished patchwork quilts and those enormous sitting room curtains whose goblet pleats never sat smoothly. Perhaps I could rework them into a maxi dress? No – because this year I’m not going into the attic on October 1st. I’m ignoring the mouldering relics of previous autumns and learning something new, so that I have something fresh to discard in February.  My jewellery friend and I have signed up to a blacksmithing course at Russborough House, run by Gunvor Anhøj and we’re going to learn how to make fire irons. I’m a little worried about the actual hammering – bang, bang, metal on metal is veering into the sensations of fork-scraping-teeth or nails-scraping-terracotta-pot – and it’s obviously heavy work, too, but I think I’m game, so let’s shovel on a little more coal, and I may well spend the winter lifting embers with half a tongs. I don’t think I’ll test the attic rafters with an anvil, though.

I can’t be the only one with itchy fingers this autumn – what are you up to?

Or, more nosily – what lurks in your attic?

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Regular readers will be au fait with my general sense of malaise, but I’ve found you can’t be disatisfied  all the time without discovering some small solutions along the way.

Recently, and by total chance as is often the case in these situations, a good friend of mine who lives in Wicklow, gave me a tomato plant cutting. It was tiny, in a little bust-up plastic pot. I thanked her and chucked it on the passenger seat of my car. After all, every plant I had ever owned until now had died a sad, mysterious death so I looked at this plant more as a lamb to the slaughter than a young plant that would actually yield fruit. Or is that veg?
Anyway, a recent house move has given me access to a very bright hallway that has a glass roof – think greenhouse. So I shoved the plant on top of my amp that lives in the hall and gave it some water every odd day.


Turns out I’m not a plant killer after all and the plant is thriving, so much so that last week I bought a big window box for the thing so I could give it a bit more room. Excited as I was by my new green fingers, I also bought a basil plant and parsley plant to keep it company in the window box.
Today I bought some tomato food (on the advice of Siobhan – thank you) and some nice compost and set the plants up in their new home.

The most surprising part of all this is not that I’m not a natural born plant killer, but that these plants make me happy. I say ‘hi’ to the tomato plant every day. He’s special because he’s the first plant that hasn’t died on me and I love him for it. And yes, I’m aware I’ve given him a gender. I give his leaves an affectionate rub at least once a day and cheer him on. I’m not mad on the herbs yet. They seem a bit lack-lustre but I’m hoping they’ll follow the tomato’s lead and start doing well.

I’m a late-comer to the joys of this sort of thing – I’ve lived in gardenless city-centre flats for a good ten years now. When stress levels hit all-time highs, my little tomato plant soothes my mind, calms me down and cheers me up. And that’s more than I can say for almost anything else at the moment.

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I hate it when I fit into a cliché. I like to think of myself as being, I dunno, vaguely individual. And yet, sometimes I find myself fitting the early-30-something settled-down middle-class former-teenage-riot grrrl cliché. To give but a few examples: I still have a huge pile of Sassy magazines in my wardrobe. I shop at Buy Olympia and Threadless and wish I could afford Marc Jacobs. I have subscriptions to Bust and Bitch. And yes, I knit.

And even worse, I actually started knitting for the first time since primary school thanks to Bust. In my feeble “I’m not a sheep!” defence, this was about ten years ago, long before the publication of Stitch and Bitch and the media hype and many copycat “hipster knitting” books that followed, but still, it’s true – in the late ’90s, Bust going on about knitting so much reminded me that I had, many years ago, rather enjoyed it.

My knitting heroine

My knitting heroine

In fact, I had knitted a platypus (yes, a platypus) at the age of about nine. If my nine-year-old self could fashion a platypus out of wool, surely my 24 year old self could, well, not knit another platypus, because frankly one knitted platypus is more than enough for anyone, but knit something? So once lunchtime (I’d just started my first ever post-college job) I went down to that yarn shop at the top of Dawson Street that’s now a preposterous whiskey shop and bought some glittery blue lurex yarn with which I planned to knit a scarf.

 

I am not lying when I say that now, nearly ten years later, as I write this at my kitchen table, I am looking at a bag on a nearby chair containing that unfinished scarf.

In fairness, it hasn’t been sitting there for a decade (I’ve moved house several times since then and besides, I’m not that scarily undomesticated). I just unearthed it in a box of knitting stuff the other day and have been trying to decide if the blue spangly stuff is worth keeping. But it was a reminder that scratchy lurex and tiny needles wasn’t the best starting project for a nouveau knitter. I had better luck with my next project, which was – you’ve guessed it – another scarf. By then the Dawson Street knitting shop had closed down so I had to go to Hickeys on Henry Street, which had a pretty crappy selection. But I found a rather nice russety velvety yearn and, lo and behold, made a scarf out of it. The feeling of satisfaction (and, let’s be honest, smugness) was huge. As was the scarf – it was about six feet long.

Since then, I’ve made scarfs, socks (I love knitting socks), jumpers and hats (no unusual animals, though). I find knitting both stimulating and relaxing – if, like me, you find it hard to concentrate on one thing for a long time, knitting is sort of grounding. It gives you something to do with your hands while you talk, or watch TV, or listen to the radio (knitting while reading is much more tricky, but it can be done). It’s a great stress-reliever – like worry beads, except you get a jumper at the end of it! And while when I started knitting again it was very hard to find patterns for cool, fitted, non-boxy garments, these days it’s not hard to find lots of patterns for stuff you’d actually like to wear. And after the death of decent yarn shops in the early ’00s, there’s been a bit of a knitting shop renaissance in Dublin, with the wondrous This is Knit in Blackrock and a new yarn café opening soon in Santry, so it’s possible to buy gorgeous yarns and get helpful advice from the friendly knitting enthusiasts behind the counter.

Today’s Guardian featured a tiresomely titled but rather cute Guide to Rebel Knitting, full of easy, kooky but practical patterns perfect for the beginning knitter. If you’ve ever been tempted to pick up the needles, it might just give you the push. And you never know, some day you might end up with a knitted platypus of your very own.

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