I enjoy feathering my nest with nifty gadgets and things that manage to be at once pretty and useful. I especially like to make my own accessories like scissor keeps and velvet boards, and of course the bobbins I showed you yesterday. Like many enthusiasts, I have an impressive stash of different kinds of scissors, thread organisers, work bags and boxes. And lots and LOTS of pins and needles. For a while now, I have been keeping my needles in their original packaging, bundled together in a little plastic bag, with a goodly number sloshing around loose in the bottom of my work box, waiting to stab unwary fingers. I have been looking for a pretty needle book that is big enough to house my burgeoning collection, in a way that would allow me to have some kind of filing system to stop my sharps mingling with my crewels, and my betweens rubbing shoulders with my Japanese silk embroidery needles… After extensive digging around the internet, I found nothing that fitted the bill. All the needlebooks, even the supposedly “large” needlebooks, had only two or four pages and were little square things. very pretty, but not what I had in mind. So I made my own, here it is:
It is about 10 cm x 13 cm, with six big pages all in brightly coloured felt. It was a good excuse to get to grips with my second hand Husqvarna viking embroidery machine, using some bargain space-dyed rayon threads picked up from the internet. The sewing pattern for the book was very much made up as I went along, but it turned out quite well.
I soon got started filling it up, needles on every page, with my flower-head pins inside the front cover, and safety pins inside the back cover…
My favourite feature on it is this dangly felt flower on the spine.
It holds the ribbon in a loop so it can hang on a hook or a clip, but it also has a secret additition. Inside the felt flower is a very tiny neodymium rare earth magnet. these magnets are small but immensely strong – don’t get them too close to your watch or credit card! Inside the flower toggle, the magnet can be put to several uses. It will find and pick up any dropped pins or needles. It will easily support the weight of the needle book, so you can have it attached to a nearby lamp stand or other metallic object. But mostly what the magnet does is hold on very nicely to my scissors!
Since making the prototype, two people have asked me to make needle books for them, which I am more than happy to do – clearly I am not the only person who thinks needle books are just too small!
Please do contact me if you would like a needle book made – they are £15 with the neodymium magnet toggle, and £13.50 without, and any money made will go into funding the equipment and materials required for my RSN course (I am currently trying to raise £115 for the first module’s materials starter pack). A choice of colours is available. I will try to get a page up and running in the near future with a gallery of items available for sale or commission.
My first dabbling in crewel embroidery, the Nicola Jarvis Robin kit, has introduced me to the wonderful world of Appletons wool. It is made in the UK from Yorkshire sheep – the company dates back 178 years, and still sells some of the same shades that were used by William Morris in his tapestries. Crewel wool is a fine two-ply yarn, and because it is made from long fibres, it is hard wearing once it is stitched, and since it doesn’t have to be tightly twisted and plied, it is brilliant for seamless shading and blending. The drawback to this fine wool is that you can get in a bit of a pickle if your centre-pull skein, despite your best efforts, gets itself in a tangle. I am not the only one to struggle – even Mary Corbet occasionally has a run-in with a centre pull, as expertly blogged here on Needle n Thread. This very thing happened to my darkest charcoal-y brown Appletons 966 skein. When it comes to ordinary cotton or silk, I am pretty good at sitting there patiently and gently untangling until the job is done, but with the wool, every little tug was in danger of untwisting and opening up the plies, and generally bobbling and thinning the thread – in a word, destroying it. in order to save the wool, I ended up having to cut it so that it didn’t get damaged by multiple passes through a knotted or bobbled bit. This made me sad, and more than a little annoyed with myself. My other skeins were working well, but I decided it would be safer (and easier on the wool) if i wound the skeins onto some kind of bobbin. But where would I find such bobbins? I have those cheap cardboard ones, but I really dislike them because they introduce a kink into the thread, and anyway, they wouldn’t be big enough for crewel wool. I spent a couple of days pondering the issue and casting about for something to use as a bobbin, when inspiration came from the most unlikely place. The toilet near my office at work. One morning after availing myself of the facilities, the toilet paper roll in the dispenser ran out and the middle of the roll dropped out into my hand. Instead of the normal cardboard tube, this dispenser takes paper rolled onto little blue plastic spindles, like this:
It just made me think “Bobbin”! It was about the right size and shape and it was freely available. I sent an email to our caretakers asking them to look out for the spindles for me – ensuring they were clean of course! About a week later, I came in to find this waiting for me on my desk:
So I took them home and set to work. In my stash I found some little plastic upholstery rings, and as luck would have it, they fitted perfectly into the little recess at one end, with a bit of help from my glue gun. At the tapered end there was a little tail just the right size for a small label with the shade number on.
The only thing left to do was to wind them with my threads, and to find a way to keep them together. I settled on a loop of beaded memory wire with a lobster claw clasp, and a bigger clip to attach the whole thing to a work bag or similar. Et voila!
I was quite pleased with my little foray into upcycling – no more tears over tangled wool! Thank you, Oxford Brookes University toilets – and the wonderful caretaking team who took the trouble to collect all those little bits of plastic for me!
Hobbycraft selling anchor stranded cotton for next to nothing
I have had a fair few emails back and forth to the RSN this week, but before I get in to that, I just have to tell you about Thursday’s trip to Hobbycraft. Then, when you have read that bit, you can all get up, dash over to Hobbycraft, grab a stash of embroidery threads for next to nothing, then come back, sit down and read the rest.
So, hobbycraft. I had something to take back and exchange, so I popped in to the Oxford branch, picked up the rotary blade I needed, a couple of packs of needles and went to the checkout. While I was there, I chatted to the cashier, whose name was Katherine (lovely lady!). she pricked up he ears when she heard me say embroidery, and then she dived under the counter and surfaced with a huge box of Anchor stranded cottons, all pristine and brand new in their little boxes, untouched and neatly skeined. They were all marked 25 pence, which is a big saving on the usual 85 pence anyway, but then she told me that they were 10 for £1. I had to get her to say it three times. I don’t actually need stranded cotton – I have a large collection (Anchor) passed to me that belonged to my church warden’s mother as well as my own stash (DMC). But this was too good to pass up, and I spent 15 min sorting out 20 skeins of loveliness for the princely sum of £2! Katherine told me to pass on the message to anyone who might be interested, so this is me doing just that. Happy hunting!
Now the other thing. Having paid my deposit and started getting excited about my RSN course, we hit a Snag. The disability. Ah yes, I was going to write something about EDS, wasn’t I? must get around to that. Anyway, I have difficulty and pain with walking, and problems with the most revolting fatigue that kind of closes a thick fog around your thought processes, makes you feel sick when you move, and seems to multiply the gravity around you, making it hard to get up and easy to fall over. I use a wheelchair, which means I can function more or less like a human being. For me, using a wheelchair is much more about victory than it is about defeat. It’s simple, tailored to my needs, beautifully engineered, comfortable and rather swish.
As you can see, it’s a nice bit of kit, and very practical. Except were it comes to stairs. You see, the RSN’s apartment in Hampton Court Palace is on the second floor. There is a lift, then it gets a bit narrow and windy, then once you get into the apartment itself, there is another small flight of steps up into the studio. I knew about all of this in advance, and I was confident that this would be fine, because although walking hurts, and it’s tiring, with repercussions the next few days in terms of flare up, I can walk as well as wheel. I can even do stairs, providing there aren’t too many and I don’t have to do them lots of times. On my visit, I satisfied myself that the access arrangements were commensurate with my level of function/level of determination (caveat: they probably wouldn’t work for someone with less lower limb function than I have, best check it out for yourself if you are thinking of going). All was well until the course leader mentioned it to someone from the health and safety department at the palace. Unfortunately, that person had not met or spoken to me, which led to a couple of unfortunate assumptions. firstly, that I was a wheelchair, and secondly, that I was a problem that required solving (this does happen quite a lot). So when this person heard of someone planning to come to the RSN who was a wheelchair user, what they imagined was an inanimate wheelchair. And of course, in the event of a fire, lifts are out of bounds. If you only imagine an inanimate wheelchair (rather than a person with a mobility impairment and plenty of their own ingenuity), you tend to end up thinking “crikey, how are we going to get that chair down a winding narrow stair case when the fire alarm goes off?” almost as if the person is a piece of furniture. The stair well doesn’t have a wheelchair refuge, and is not suitable for an “evac chair” arrangements. This little chain of thoughts basically wound up with the H&S person telling the course leader that it wasn’t a suitable venue for me. I then received an email telling me about other places (satellite centres) I could go to instead, the comparative driving distances from Oxford, and the fact that I wouldn’t be able to go to them on my day off. Would I be able to change my day off? because the satellite centres at Bristol and Rugby don’t run sessions of a Thursday… Whoah there! go back a bit… this is all because you can’t carry me down the stairs when the fire alarm goes off? But you don’t need to carry me! I can walk!
All this was quite easily sorted out, as it happens. Most wheelchair users and others with impaired mobility, particularly those of us that work, have encountered the whole “how do you get out in a fire” thing. I even have a personal emergency evacuation plan, which comes along with me, and which I adapt for the venue. I give it to the fire officer so they know what to expect, and can train the marshals if required. The RSN apartment situation fitted perfectly with one of the three possible alternative plans I have in place already, and all they needed to do was ask.
I think it is safe to assume I am the first wheelchair user they have had on the certificate course. I think we all learned something here. Hopefully, Hampton Court have learned that disabilities are as individual as the people that bear them, and that if you need to know what adaptations or precautions are required, the best expert is the person who actually lives with the impairment. I have learned (again) that you can’t expect people to know what you need or don’t need if you don’t tell them. Because this is old hat to me, I tend to forget that it is is weird and new for others. Another lesson is this: people usually mean well. I could choose to be upset that I was being discussed as a “problem” or being thought of as a piece of furniture. Or I could be happy that people wanted to spend their time and effort trying to make sure I was safe, and that in the end everything was fine and I had a chance to be an ambassador for any mobility-impaired people who may come after me. Let’s make it a better day. I choose happy.