Monday, March 16, 2015

How to Make the Quickest, Fluffiest Pom Poms Ever.

I'm going to share how to make the fastest, fluffiest, easiest poms you've ever seen.  I really don't think it can get any quicker than this! I wish I could take credit for the original idea, but I first saw this technique for making pom poms in bulk on Flax and Twine.  Basically she wrapped yarn around the legs of an upturned table and then knotted yarn around the long length at regular intervals to form many pom poms in one session.  

Although this did make the pom poms significantly faster to make, it would still have been very time consuming to wrap all of that yarn.

I thought it was such a genius, simple idea, but I realised that it could be made even quicker by using wool tops instead of yarn.

For non-spinners, wool top is often purchased by handspinners as it is a continuous length of wool staple fibres that have been combed after carding so that all of the fibres lie parallel.

Other than wool top, you really don't need any specialist equipment and you should find everything else you need to make  them around the house.

You will need:-

  • Wool tops - dyed or natural.  I buy my wool tops from World of Wool.
  • A clip or peg.
  • Yarn the same colour as your wool top.
  • Scissors.
  • A chair or table.

I used an upturned Ikea chair as the legs are straight and would allow the wool to be pulled off easily.  Any chair or table with smooth, straight legs would work.

Wrap the wool top around once and clip it in place somehow. I just used a plastic food clip.  It's really important to keep the length of wool as tight as possible as it reduces the amount of trimming you will need to do later.

Cut lots of 30cm lengths of yarn, one for every pom pom you plan on making. Tie the wool top tightly at both sides, close to the chair or table leg.

Now start loosely knotting your lengths of yarn at regular intervals along the length of your wool top. To tie your knots, cross the yarn over 3 times so that the knots will remain tight when you pull them. The distance between the knots will be the diameter of your pom poms so you might want to measure as you go.  My knots were all 5cm apart.

Once all of the knots are evenly spaced you can start securing the pom pom centres. Pull all of the knots tightly and then wrap the yarn around and knot the centres a couple more times, finishing with at least three knots.

With a sharp pair of scissors, cut the wool top between each of the knots, trying to cut smoothly through the perfect centre.

You should now have lots of little woolly haystacks with two uneven bundles on either end, one with a loop and one attached to the clip.  Cut the end of the loop off and trim the one attached to the clip so that they look more like the rest of the even haystacks.

Fluff out the wool fibres with your fingers so that they become little fluffy balls.  Roll them around in your hands to even out their shape a little.

If you've kept the wool top tight, and knotted and cut evenly, then the pom poms shouldn't need an awful lot of trimming to make them round.  This is all of the wool that I cut from my 11 pom poms.

Here they are in all their woolly glory!  Can you believe I managed to make 11 pom poms in less than half an hour? It would have taken even less time if I hadn't kept stopping to taking photos of each step.

As they are made from staple fibres rather than yarn they will shed a little so you might want to give them a shake and run your finger nail over them to encourage any loose fibres to fall out.  It does also mean that you wouldn't be able to make very large pom poms with this technique as you are limited by the staple length of the fibre, but this technique is perfect for making hundreds of little tiny pom poms relatively quickly.

I'm not sure that they would be durable enough for a hat or a cushion, but they would be perfect for a decorative item like a wreath or garland that wouldn't get too much handling.

Here's what I did with mine...

They made a perfect Red Nose Day accessory!  I attached hair clips to them all and clipped them into my daughter's hair in a Paloma Faith kind of way.  They looked fabulous decorating a French plait that travelled all the way around the back of her head.  She got so many compliments on them and they looked great all day!

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Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Lino Printing Workshop


For Christmas my husband bought me a voucher to spend at my favourite gallery - The Itch Gallery in Oakham.  Jenny Creasey, the gallery owner, holds regular workshops there, where you get to learn new crafts from professional artists, so this was the perfect gift for me.

I decided to book myself onto the Design and Lino Print Stationary workshop being run by Victoria Satchwell as this was something that I've been wanting to revisit for a while and I loved the idea of learning from an expert.  I had tried lino printing when I was doing my A level Art Textiles and I remember how much I enjoyed it - I spent days laboriously cutting out a detailed image of a centaur from a very hard piece of lino tile - but that was over 20 years ago and my memory of the technique was a little hazy, so I really wanted to get a refresher lesson from someone who knows the craft well.
Lino printing is a relatively easy craft to try as the materials aren't overly expensive.  Although nothing beats getting tuition in person, there are plenty of tutorial videos on YouTube if you just search for "how to linocut."
To start linocutting you will need -  

Before the course I tried to think of a design that I would like to turn into a print for stationery.  I thought that a Christmas motif would be the perfect choice, as then I could create my own wrapping paper, gift tags and make several cards from the same lino cut.  If I was going to spend a few hours cutting out a design, it would be a shame to use it for just one application.  I love the 50's style retro fawn and so I found an image of a vintage 1950s watercolour illustration that I thought would be a perfect starting point.

I loaded the image into the drawing app, Inkbot and followed the outline, trying to make a simpler, more stylised monochrome version of the image, altering the design to make it my own.  Inkbot is great as it smooths out your lines, so even the shakiest hand drawing can look smooth and flawless. 

I then opened the image up in Photoshop and filled in the parts that I wanted to be black.

When I got to the gallery I realised that I was the only one who had brought a design to reproduce. The gallery is the perfect place to be when you're stuck for inspiration, as you're surrounded by beautiful objects and imagery.  I was very thankful that I had come prepared though, as my design is quite detailed and from past experience, I knew that it would be tricky to get it finished in three hours.

I was given a piece of soft cut lino, to transfer my design onto.  I held my inkjet printout firmly over the lino and scribbled over the back in pencil.  At the time it seemed that the light grey transfer of the inkjet ink would be fine for me to cut around, but in retrospect it would have been helpful to go over my design in permanent marker pen because, as the cuts built up, they created shadows which, after a while, made it difficult to see where I needed to cut and where I needed to leave raised.  Also, just holding the design with my hand gradually removed quite a lot of the inkjet image.  I had to keep holding my design up for it to catch the light so that I could then see where I still needed to cut.

The lino cutting tool was still the same one that I used as a teenager but the soft cut lino was infinitely easier to cut and carve into than the piece of hard lino I had to work with in the 1990s.  This stuff is great, like carving into a rubbery hard cheese. 

My design had quite a lot of fine lines which, once I'd seen some beautiful examples of Victoria's work, I knew would be too fine, so I thickened a lot of the lines so that they were around 1mm thick.  I also filled in the bow and the bell part of the design as Victoria advised me that these would be a bit too fine. 

When my image was finalised it was time to have a play and familiarise myself with the lino cutting tool.  The outer part of the lino was going to be cut away later, so it was a great place to have a play.  I started drawing lines, circles and various details from my design to practise and improve my technique before I took a blade to the actual design.

The lino cutting tool takes quite a bit of practise to perfect the technique.  I had to keep reminding myself not to put too much pressure on and to keep the angle of the blade quite shallow.  I got carried away so many times and found myself digging deep tracks into the lino and then getting stuck.

Throughout the design I used the smallest blade available to me.  I found that, as a novice, I was able to control it so much better than the larger blades.  If I needed my cuts to be deeper, I just went over them a couple of times to get more definition.  I did briefly attempt a slightly larger blade to cut out some of the background, but I found I was having to use more strength to cut, which put me at a greater risk of slipping and damaging my design.  I did nip the very top of his ear off while I was using the larger blade, so I quickly changed down a blade before I caused any more damage.

I should probably also warn you that these cutting tools are sharp so you need to cut away from yourself and try to keep your hand behind the blade of the tool.  There were 8 people on the course and 3 of them cut themselves so badly that the accident book had to come out.

Once my design was complete and I'd cut out around my image it was time for the exciting part of printing it onto paper.  I was given a sponge roller and some black acrylic paint and I carefully rolled the paint all over the surface of my design.  I tried several thicknesses of paint and I found that I much preferred the effect I got from a very thin coat of paint.

I should probably confess here that my print isn't exactly as I had intended.  My deer was supposed to be facing to the right, but I thought as it was going to be a lino print I would mirror the image so that it would print facing the right way... However it was actually mirrored TWICE, once when I transferred my image by scribbling on the back and again when it was printed.  So for future reference I now know that I don't need to flip my print out image if I'm going to transfer my design in the same way again.

As the course was designing and lino printing stationery I was given a Kraft notebook, some Kraft cards, a set of gift tags and some brown wrapping paper to embellish with my design.

I love the natural look of brown Kraft card and paper and the lino cut images complement it perfectly. However I wasn't overly enamoured by the extra lines I was getting in the background and, as you can see, I was struggling a little to get my design central.  I decided to take a break, go home and experiment further in my own time.  I know the extra lines are supposed to be part of the charm of lino cutting, but I just prefer a cleaner finish.


The next day I got out my scalpel and cut away the background of my design so that I would get a clean background.  Also with the background cut away I would have a much better idea of where I was printing.

With my background gone, my lino cut was starting to feel a lot more like an unmounted rubber stamp - something I'm a lot more familiar with, so I got out my stamping and embossing supplies and had a little play. I temporarily attached my lino cut to the largest clear acrylic mount I have with a glue stick and started experimenting with different inks and embossing powders.

Here are some of the results using a mixture of Versamark Watermark Ink Pad and various embossing powders.

I think these two are my favourite.  They're stamped with the Versamark Watermark Ink Pad and then heat embossed with verdigris and red sparkle embossing powders.

Unfortunately the photo doesn't do it justice, but the red one glitters gently with a very subtle sparkle.  I love how it maintains the look of a hand cut lino print, with just a hint of the cutting lines remaining, but it has a clean, fresh sparkle to it.

Lino cutting is such a rewarding craft - there's something about wielding a sharp blade and carving your own design into a solid block that is incredibly satisfying.  I feel truly inspired after my day at The Itch Gallery, being surrounded by beautiful objects and seeing the very varied work of all the other students really sparks the imagination. And if nothing else, at least I've got my Christmas cards and wrapping sorted!

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