Hats fit for Heroes

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I have some exciting news.

A couple of weeks ago, Charlotte from Palace Green Library at Durham University got in touch to ask if I would like to be involved in their Hats Fit for Heroes charity campaign. As part of their upcoming exhibition ‘Antarctica: Explorers, Heroes, Scientists’ (opens 17th October) the Palace Green Library in Durham are running a knitting event called ‘Hats fit for Heroes’. The idea is to ask knitters/crocheters/sewers to make hats based on those worn by Antarctic explorers and then to sell them with all of the proceeds going to Walking with the Wounded, a charity that works with wounded service men and women and which last year organised an Antarctic trek.

My Tom Crean Teacosy Hat pattern is one of the patterns they chose for the campaign.

I’m delighted to be part of the campaign. I’m very excited by the fact that something I did with this blog could have a real impact on the lives of others. I never thought that a teacosy could change lives! And I never thought anyone would ever describe me as a designer. But there you are.

If you missed the original post, you can read all about Tom Crean and his mighty hat here. Since I posted that piece back in February, I’ve been following Antarctic Discovery, a blog that publishes pieces from Shackleton’s diary. It makes for fascinating reading and I’d recommend it if you want to find out more about Antarctic explorers of the heroic era.

Hats have already started to arrive at Palace Green Library and I’m really pleased to see that there’s a couple of tea-cosy hats there already!

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If you want to make a teacosy hat the pattern PDF is here:Tom Crean Tea Cosy Hat

If you’re on Twitter, you can follow the campaign at #AHatFitForAHero

Here’s all the details from Palace Green Library about the campaign:

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Could you knit, crochet or sew a hat fit for a hero?

As part of our upcoming exhibition ‘Antarctica: Explorers, Heroes, Scientists’ (opening 17th Oct 2015), Palace Green Library in Durham is seeking crafting enthusiasts to make hats fit for heroes, inspired by Antarctic explorers.

All proceeds will be donated to Walking with the Wounded, a charity working with wounded service men and women across the UK. The charity organised a trek across the Antarctic in 2013 (www.walkingwiththewounded.org.uk).

How can I help?

Get crafty and create your own hat fit for a hero. You can knit, crochet or sew your hat, and it can be adult or child sized. Be as creative as you like but if you are using someone else’s pattern, please make sure you have permission to make a hat that can be sold for charity.  If you are looking for a knitting pattern, we have teamed up with Woolaballoo in Hexham and knitting designers Jane Carroll of ‘Archives and Old Lace’ and Angelea McGarrah have kindly agreed to the use of their patterns based on authentic explorer hats. These will be available on our website in the next few weeks: www.durham.ac.uk/palace.green/headstart

Then simply bring along your finished hat to one of the drop off points in Durham, Hexham or Harrogate:

  • Palace Green Library, Durham
  • Woolabaloo, Market Square, Hexham
  • Woolabaloo stall, Hall B, The Knitting and Stitching Show, Harrogate (26-29 November only)

Or you can post your hat to:

Palace Green Library
Palace Green
Durham
DH1 3RN

We need to receive your hat no later than 30 November 2015. Please include your name and up to 50 words about your hat.

We are also running two free craft workshops with pattern giveaways to help get you started – details to follow.

We will be selling our hats from 1 December 2015  in the gift shop at Palace Green Library, Durham. All hats will cost £15.00 with all profits going to Walking with the Wounded.  We hope to raise even more money as Barclays Bank has kindly agreed to match fund the first £1,000 raised.

If you can, we’d love you to print and display the attached poster in your venue. If you need any further information or would like us to send you some printed flyers, please don’t hesitate to contact the good people at Palace Green Library: pg.library@durham.ac.uk or follow them on Twitter: @palacegreenlib

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Make do and mend weekend

It’s been a make do and mend sort of weekend.

I spent Saturday morning at a darning workshop with Tom van Deijnen (better known as Tom of Holland) at the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford.

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Tom of Holland is a textiles practitioner who specialises in mending and in visible repair. He talked to the group about his practice and his decision to repair things, not because of a need to ‘make do’ but because of a desire to engage more deeply with the things we use and consume. As makers, we grow to love the things we have made. Every time we pull on a pair of hand-knit socks or wrap ourselves in a hand-made blanket, we are reminded of the story of the item – the hours put into making it, the materials within it, its flaws, its beauties. It’s all too easy to overlook the stories behind the objects we buy from the high street, or to see these stories as less valuable. Repair can help us to re-engage with these items and add new strands to the story.

In the workshop, we learned two darning techniques: Swiss darning (which is a bit like embroidering on knitted fabric) and stocking darning (for repairing holes in knitted fabric). Tom showed us some beautiful examples of decorative darning and encouraged us to try things out, to make mistakes, and to be brave with our new skills.

I found Swiss darning sort of relaxing. There’s a nice rhythm to the needle swinging in and out of the fabric, following the path of the original yarn.  After about ten minutes I was totally addicted. I want to Swiss darn everything. Cushions. Jumpers. Socks. The backs of other people’s coats on the bus. I could be like a darning Zorro, leaving my mark on everyone that comes within reach of my needle.

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Obviously, my hat will be much nicer than his

Thankfully, just before I got completely carried away, we had a break from the darning and were taken on a little tour of repaired items in the Pitt Rivers museum. There’s a special exhibition on at the moment – Preserving What is Valued – and a museum trail of repaired objects. The tour added a different dimension to the workshop. There’s a tradition of mending that extends across the world, to every community and it was interesting to see where our own practices and habits fit into this tradition.

After the tour, we came back to the workshop space and learned stocking darning (also called web darning) which I found trickier because knitted fabric just wants to stretch and filling in the holes feels a little like working against, rather than with, the fabric. I wasn’t so enthusiastic about stocking darning – I didn’t want to mob people on the bus – but I can see how functional it is and how useful it will be. I can think of at least four things in the house that need to be darned and now I sort of know how to do it.*

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My first attempts at Swiss darning and a stocking darn

So, Sunday came round and I was keen to try out my new darning skills. I settled in with a pair of very holey socks (so holey they could belong in a shrine), a cup of tea, and A Playful Day’s podcast which, serendipitously, was an interview with Jen Gale of Make do and Mendable.

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And then I REALLY started to think about mending…

Jen’s No New Clothes for a Year challenge seems tough. I love the idea of the slow wardrobe and I’m more likely to buy wool or fabric than new clothes from the high street but I feel that a total ban would be hard. There are things I just don’t know how to make – like shoes and waterproof coats and jeans – and I don’t know if I can really do without them. Am I cheating on my slow wardrobe if I go out to buy quick fixes? Is saying “I don’t buy things from the high street except for X” really hypocritical? Kate and Jen discussed the fears and the stumbling blocks that stand in the way of embracing this sort of sustainable living. For me, I worry about the feeling of denial (insert the long shadow of an Irish childhood here) Would it feel like a year-long Lent? How does this feeling of denial tally with the inspired, happy feelings I want to associate with my crafting? I find myself strangely reminded of Jeanette Winterson’s discussion of fasting – and I’m thinking about how greed and consumption apply to fashion and material culture, just as much as they do to food.

I’ve been thinking about sustainable and fashion and my own practices as a consumer a lot more recently. Some of this was sparked by teaching war-time texts and discussing rationing in Britain with students. When I teach C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch, and the Unicorn, I bring in rationing books and get the students to ‘add up’ how many coupons they would need to purchase the outfits they are wearing to class. We normally find that very few people could ‘afford’ their outfits under the strict rules around the clothing-ration in 1940s Britain.** Recently, I found my conscience piqued by the 2015 documentary The True Cost.  The documentary is sober and sobering – it talks about the problems of consumption in the western world and, particularly, our problem of confusing the things we use (like clothes and furniture) with things we use up (like food and fuel). The idea of throwing something out because it has gone out of fashion is crazy. And our appetite for endless things is getting out of hand. We have a consumption crisis. Our wardrobes are obese.

And so I’m having a make do and mend weekend. I’ve just book marked Felicity Ford’s wonderful post about gathering a Slow Wardrobe so I can go back and read it. I need to think about how making and buying work together and what role mending can play in my own life. I’d love to hear your thoughts on this too. Do you mend things? Do you have a slow wardrobe? What are the stumbling blocks you’ve found on the way? How did you over come them? And what advice can you give me?

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*I was always warned that “a little knowledge is a dangerous thing”. But, if something’s broken anyway, how much worse can I really make it by trying to fix it? It’s not like knitted things will suddenly burst into flames if my darning is a little crappy, right?

**Students are always surprised to find that Lucy’s feast with Mr Tumnus breaks all the rules of rationing. They have real butter and eggs and toast – a huge indulgence for an afternoon snack – and this excess marks Mr Tumnus out as a strange and perhaps slightly dodgy character.

All Things Alice: Adventures first!

Everyone’s gone Alice mad! It’s been 150 years since Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland was first published.  And on Saturday July 4th it’s Alice’s Day in Oxford. In honour of this frabjous occasion I’m doing a series of posts about all things Alice…

“No, no! The adventures first,” said the Gryphon in an impatient tone: “explanations take such a dreadful time.”

Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland (1865)

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I’ll take the Gryphon’s advice and do the adventures first….

I’ve been on research leave for a term. It’s been great. And terrible.  There have been days of mighty exploration in archives (including The Royal Commission for the Great Exhibition, The Pollard Collection at TCD, and the newly-opened and gorgeous Weston Library at the Bodleian).  There have been days of frenzied writing.  And days of frenzied reading. And days of gnawing my knuckles and staring at a pile of notes like a demented Jonathan Strange.

It’s been a process of discovery.[1] And tea. Crates of the stuff. [2]

But all work and no play makes for a Jane a dull girl and so I arranged a day-trip went with fellow children’s literature scholar and wild Irish girl Beth Rodgers to the V&A Museum of childhood.  We are nerds – even on our days off we can think of nothing nicer than visiting a museum.

Adventures!  Vitamin D! The swealterish air of the London Underground system! And the glory of the V&A Museum of Childhood!  Look how happy we are to be outside!

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Jane and Beth take a busman’s holiday…

There were two exhibition on – Small Stories: At Home in a Doll’s House about *shudder* doll’s houses and The Alice Look all about the ways Alice has been costumed over the years.  While I was very sad to see that nobody had linked up the two exhibitions by making a giant doll’s house that I could sit inside while pretending to BE Alice, I was quite impressed.

Although I am creeped out by doll’s and doll’s houses (miniature things make me feel dizzy) I have to admit that Small Stories is an excellent exhibition. The V&A have and enormous collection of doll’s houses and a collection of enormous doll’s houses…the image below gives you a sense of a scale of some of the pieces:

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The exhibit is arranged in roughly chronological order, showing the development of fashions in doll’s houses and fashions in interior decoration from the 18th century to the 21st century.

Each case is accompanied by audio pieces (which you can hear here) telling stories about the dolls and the houses.  Some of the dolls were a bit scary though and we didn’t much want to imagine that they were real people with voices…

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Phineas has murder in his little heart

We were especially thrilled to discover that by positioning ourselves just so we could see our giddy faces reflected in the mirrors of the doll’s houses.

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It’s me! And some creepy dolls…

This lead to falling around laughing like idiots. Thankfully, the staff at the V&A were patient, no doubt being used to seeing escaped academics on a semi-regular basis.

After refreshing ourselves with tea, it was on to The Alice Look.

This exhibit, curated by Kiera Vaclavik of Queen Mary University of London explores the different ways Alice has been costumed in print and media versions of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland since it was first published 150 years ago.

Perhaps the version of Alice we’e most familiar with is the one popularised by the 1951 Walt Disney film.  Alice’s blue dress and hairband (growing up in Ireland we always called these kinds of hairbands ‘Alice bands’) seem absolutely iconic.

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But, as The Alice Look shows, Alice has had many ‘iconic’ looks and she continually adapts to new styles and trends. Even between her first public appearance in 1865 and 1871 her costume has changed to reflect changing fashions:

If you look closely, you can see that Alice’s stockings and apron have changed. Alice doesn’t have a hairband in the 1865 image but has acquired one by 1871. There are small changes to the sleeves of her dress, the width of the skirt and the way the apron is tied too.

It’s a real delight to see the changes in her costume through the years and in different translations of the text – the blond, blue-eyed Alice might be the most common in English-language versions of the text but she is by no means the only Alice available to readers today.

For me, the best part of the exhibit was looking at the dresses on display:

More than anything, these show how the “Alice look”, like Carroll’s book, is malleable and adaptable and open to our own interpretation.

You could even design your own Alice look and add it to the display.  Though some visitors had an incredibly avant-garde approach to fashion:

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If you’re keen to have your only little adventure to London, I can’t recommend the V&A Museum of Childhood enough. It’s free, there’s tons to see, and it’s very easy to get to.

The Small Stories exhibition is on until September 6th 2015 and The Alice Look runs until November 1st 2015.

More from me about Alice tomorrow…

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[1] Discovering how stupid Past-Jane can be is a major part of the process. I once wasted about two hours frantically searching for the source of a particularly brilliant quote only to realise that it was, in fact, my own writing.

[2] More about tea in tomorrow’s post