24 May 2007

Because what I need is another craft.

Fibre festivals are fairly thin on the ground here in the UK, so when when one happens, as Wonderwool Wales did last weekend, I will do just about anything in order to be there. It was an exhilarating, if exhausting weekend, during which I walked far too much, sat much too little, and talked to more people in two days than I normally do in the course of a month.

We arrived too late for my scheduled class on color theory, with Di Gilpin, but Emily made it, and said it was good. I did get to see Di’s beautiful and amazing work, at her booth, and had a nice chat with her husband. Portland is, apparently, on their list of places to visit during her teaching tour of the US this summer, and his eyes lit up when I mentioned that Portland is a great town for beer.

Despite the fact that it was a work-related deal, the two day festival at the Royal Welsh Showground left plenty of opportunity for schmoozing and Stash Enhancement. I met Kerrie, from Magknits, and Jen, from FyberSpates, and Lee Price, from Glasu (Glass-ee), one of the people who made Wonderwool Wales happen, and who is also the man behind the Bowmont project.

The exhibit that really fired me up was Jenni Stuart-Anderson’s. I had scheduled to take her class, but our late arrival at Wonderwool meant that I was busy gathering audio when I should have been learning to make rag rugs. I stopped by her booth on Sunday, and got a little mini-tutorial on the process, and I came away with a “bodger” (best name for a tool, ever) of my very own.

rugJenni uses reclaimed wool that she finds in charity shops (old wool jackets, mostly, and the occasional blanket) which she cuts into strips, and uses to make stunning rugs and wall hangings. The technique using the bodger is a simple process of poking, or “progging” the tool into heavy weight Hessian cloth (burlap), then using the tool to grab a small strip of wool and pull it through. It’s not much different than latch-hooking, really, though it’s much quicker to cover fabric with strips of cloth, than it is to cover the same amount of latchhook canvas with snippets of yarn. The fabric is not knotted, but the width of the strips and their proximity to each other keeps them in place, and they can be easily removed and replaced if they get worn, soiled, or scorched by ash from a fire.

To understand my joy at becoming the proud owner of a bodger you have to step back in time with me to the years BC (Before Cast-on), when I purchased a load of old, and very worn Welsh Blankets at a boot sale, with the intention of building an empire on Welsh Blanket pillows. The process of turning blankets into pillow covers consumed every spare inch of our house, and the better part of one winter. I started with ten blankets, ordered feather cushion inserts, found some vintage buttons on ebay, bought a new sewing machine and set to work. I made and embellished about eighty pillows, and then went in search of a market for them. (Business note: before launching into any manufacturing operation, it is a good idea to find out if there is a market for what you are making.)

To my chagrin I found not one, but several galleries in Carmarthen already stocking cushions made from Welsh Blankets, every bit as nice as the ones I had made, and they weren’t exactly flying off the shelves. No one wanted them. I flogged a few on ebay, and gave away a few as gifts. I stopped making them, tidied away all evidence of their manufacture, stuffed the remainder into large plastic garbage bags, and they have been insulating my attic ever since. Over the years questions regarding the failed venture have arisen, from time to time. “What are you going to do with those pillows?” has become “When are you going to get rid of those pillows?” It’s a fair question.

This summer the pillows are going. The specially ordered, still brand new feather cushions will be listed as a job lot on ebay, and carefully sewn Welsh Blanket pillow covers will be just as carefully over-dyed and cut into strips. This autumn they will meet my new bodger, and become beautiful rugs. The pillows have spent enough time in my attic, and I’ve spent enough time feeling embarrassed about my failed Pillow Empire. Live and learn. It’s time to move on.

Posted on May 24, in Blog


  1. Yvonne wrote:

    I have really wanted to take up rug hooking with my left over yarn. Every year I go down to Black Sheep Gathering there is a booth with a lady that sells kits and instructional videos. Maybe this is my year to actually take it up!

    Posted on 5.24.07 ·
  2. Terrie wrote:

    I’m glad you had a good time at the festival! I’m going to my first wool festival this June in Estes Park, Colorado. Bodger is an awesome name for a tool! Have fun making rugs; they look really cool!

    Posted on 5.24.07 ·
  3. Teresa wrote:

    I have a few wool rugs manufactured in my hometown more than 70 years ago. Not handmade, but sturdy, the colors still clear and strong. They take miles of traffic and clean up with a brisk snapping out-of-doors.
    Last year at the Michigan Fiber Festival my sister picked up a rug-making kit and it included a punch and pull thingy (I don’t think the world “bodger” was used). Since then she prowls garage sales, flea markets, consignment shops and “goodwill” stores for wool fabric. I even caught her fingering a few of my favorite wool jackets suggesting, while her eyes bored past my shoulder in an inventory-like fashion at my ** GASP ** STASH(!@#@!), that perhaps the cut of a few garments were a bit, well, dated. I admitted to a hint of shine on the shoulders and cuffs of a beloved dark rose swing coat and allowed her to take that before she spied some itsy snag or flaw elsewhere.
    The next day I called a locksmith to secure my chambers. The nerve.
    Her rugs are beautiful and fetch a pretty price. The warm pallette of her latest designs employ a hint dark rose to bridge the gap between light and shadow. Still, I hope your sister is reading this.
    Hook on.

    Posted on 5.25.07 ·
  4. Laura wrote:

    I’m looking forward to seeing your rug creations! Ahh the math of Cast-On/Fling. It’s like math to me because knowledge builds upon having experienced the stories that came before today’s story. Thank Heaven I recall the story from one of your earliest casts of buying yarn from a boot sale and the detailed description of what a boot sale is! Now I don’t have to ask and I can completely picture you buying these blankets (which I also remember from a previous story). I can just see your attic full of pillows. So I guess my comment doesn’t say much except “we’re paying attention out here Brenda!” I’m glad you’ve started a blog. 🙂

    Posted on 5.25.07 ·
  5. glittrgirl wrote:

    Hi Brenda

    Do let us know when you list your pillows/cushions. I am sure there are Cast-on listerners and readers of your blog who would be interested!

    Keep up the good work

    Posted on 5.28.07 ·
  6. Andrea wrote:

    I used to make latch hook rugs with my grandmother when I was a child. I think it was my first craft. I haven’t thought about that in a long time, so thanks for reminding me of it. They are very happy memories.

    I can’t wait to see the rugs you make!

    Posted on 5.29.07 ·
  7. Jules wrote:

    Hi Brenda.
    I’ve just come across your podcast and I think it is brilliant. I have lots of episodes to catch up on but I’m fast getting through them. Not sure if this is the right place to comment on the podcast though!
    My folks are in Pembrokeshire also so I would love to hear about good wool shops there (up here in Glasgow I resort to expensive John Lewis or – more recently, and much better – Ebay). My mum is a great knitter (I am slow and so tend to use big fat needles and chunky fat wool!) and is always sending gorgeous stuff to her several grandchildren.
    How many subscribers do you have now? Also, ever used a knitting machine? I have one but it’s a bit pants and getting the comb into to hold the casted on stitches down seems impossible. I really just got it for those seldom times I wanted to quickly work up something in thin wool.
    adios, Jules

    Posted on 5.30.07 ·
  8. Sarah wrote:

    Now that you are famous across the knitting blogosphere, perhaps it’s time to list the cushions on ebay again. A fundraiser for Cast On? Not that we’d want to deprive you of resources for bodging of course ;0)

    Posted on 6.3.07 ·
  9. Sarah wrote:

    Oh, and the circles are gorgeous – lucky friend!

    Posted on 6.3.07 ·
  10. Couldn’t fine a place with your email soooooo: HAPPY BIRTHDAY BRENDA!! May your year be filled with fibers and fun!

    Posted on 6.6.07 ·
  11. Mama Cat wrote:

    Speaking of boot sales … I think I’ve convinced a whole bunch of people in my township in New Jersey that what we REALLY need is a town-wide boot sale. We may do one in the parking lot of our municipal swimming pool sometime in the fall, proceeds to go to something environmental.

    Never would have heard of this without Cast-On. See what you’ve done, Brenda? Brought the boot sale to America … this could be as big as the Beatles.

    And our birthdays are almsot the same if BalletMommy got it right – Mine is June 5. Happy Belated!

    Posted on 6.12.07 ·
  12. Julia wrote:

    Welcome to the world of rug hooking! It’s great fun, and as you’ve noticed it can move along pretty quickly, depending on the thickness of the fabric strips you’re using. I don’t do much work with fabric strips anymore, having moved to using the punch-hook method and – YARN! Yes, your leftover yarn can be used to create wonderful handmade rugs. Cozy underfoot, lovely to look at, and satisfies the Yankee tendency toward thrift. Enjoy!
    You know, maybe you shouldn’t give up on those Welsh blanket pillows quite yet. There may be a few (hundred) Cast-On fans that would love to have a Brenda Dayne creation. Fundraiser for the podcast?

    Posted on 6.14.07 ·
  13. It’s really only fitting that this generation’s boom in fiber arts should include latch-hooking; it’s simple, quick, and gorgeous in effect, not to mention bare toe wiggling worthy — what’s not to love?

    Oh, I am another practitioner of the art of “okay what’s the Next project / Get Rich scheme / what-have- you” and SO understand the lovely insulating pillows — The phrase “live and learn” always makes me think of the phrase a couple of singing pals heard at a folk festival in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, from a fellow who was giving an excellent clogging performance: his version was “Live and learn, die and forget it all again!” Cracks me up every time…

    And Yes, I do think bodger wins as best tool name ever. Bodger. Bodger bodger bodger. I’m probably going to wake Lise up on the plane while we’re traveling later today, saying “bodger”


    Posted on 6.18.07 ·
  14. Alison wrote:

    This is more of a question than a comment. I am working towards my Ph.D. and part of my studies I’ve actully been able to encorporate knitting ( who would have ever thought!!!) However, my advisor asked me the other day to define Craft which I have been trying to do but I guess I haven’t yet come up with a one that makes the grade so I was wonder how anyone out there would define “Craft” and is “Craft” different from “Art” Looking forward to hearing some other opinions other than my own LOL.


    Posted on 7.15.07 ·

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