Wednesday, 24 January 2018

Hollow Brass Rings and their Replacement - What to make your Dorset Buttons on now!

It's been a tumultuous few months here at Beaker Button. In August we were told that the hollow brass rings we'd been teaching on, and using in our kits, were possibly being discontinued. After an initial mad panic I did a lot of researching online, phoning companies and generally making a nuisance of myself to try an find a replacement. I had long conversations on the phone with the company I bought my brass rings from and explained that without them Dorset button making was in peril. In November we were told that they were, despite our best efforts, foot stamping, pleading, praying to the Gods of brass etc., going to be discontinued.

In my long searching I came across a Chinese wholesaler of rings, and they were willing to make to order within reason and had lots of very nice fine rings in a zinc alloy and a copper alloy.

copper alloy Dorset button rings

zinc alloy Dorset button rings

All the other people I'd spoken to couldn't reassure me that the rings they sold were washable, but I knew that the zinc alloy rings were as they're made from the same stuff that my small rings are from and they wash fine. After breathing a huge sigh of relief I ordered a largish shipment and crossed my fingers. When they arrived I was delighted with them, and have been teaching with them, putting them in my mixed pack Dorset button kits and selling them online with great success.  I've even designed new jewellry kits with them.

Bifrost Necklace in the new rings

They are not perfectly round, but for me that adds to the appeal. They are closer to the type of rings the original 18th and 19th button makers would have used. I've now added some fabulous flat, large rings to the collection and I'm busy redesigning or remaking kits with them.

Flat large rings 

The brooches in green below are made with the new flat rings, the mauve brooch under that was made with the old hollow brass rings. Over the next few weeks the old rings will gradually be replaced with the fine and flat new rings in our kits.

I thought I would have to settle with something new and that I'd miss the brass rings but I'm loving working with the new ones. I hope you like the new rings as much as me.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

Beaker Button Warrenfield Sock Yarn - Part 1

Some of you will know that I've always wanted my own sheep, which I can produce a yarn from to sell in the shop. Unfortunately I'm mildly allergic to lanolin, which makes owning sheep tricky as you can imagine. However, I had to great fortune to get to know Elizabeth of Warrenfield Farm, which is just down the road from Beaker Button, in the Clatfords. Elizabeth has a delightful flock of Hampshire Down sheep and I've been using her fleece for years to teach spinning with. It's soft, springy and wonderful to work with. This year we've gone into partnership to produce Beaker Button Warrenfield Sock yarn. It's going to be a soft and springy sock yarn in 100g skeins spun at the Natural Fibre Co. in Launceston. Cornwall. I was lucky enough to be given a tour of the factory on Monday when we delivered the fleece so I thought I'd share some of the photos with you.

For those of you who are wondering part 2 is going to be all about dyeing the skeins when they're delivered at the end of October.

Elizabeth Skirting the Fleece

Fleeces being rolled to bag up
Two sacks full of fleece

Elizabeth's Hampshire Down sheep 
Fleece weighed in at 30kg

fleece is sorted then separated


tumble dried


comes out like clouds

clouds turned into fine rovings

and spun into singles

then plied into my sock yarn 

then wound into skeins or balls (ours will be skeins)

then hung to dry

then knitted!

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Making Knitted Lace a Little Easier

I'm always surprised that more people haven't come across these techniques when knitting. I thought a tutorial on how I use them might be handy as I spend a lot of time telling people how to do them in the shop. This tutorial takes you through all the things I do to make lace knitting easier but feel free to use the techniques in any sort of knitting project. I'm using a pattern I've designed called Kelp Poncho,  knitted in Fyberspates Scrumptious Lace, which will be available to download later in the year. 

Tools I use:
Stitch markers,  I'm using 1 set of simple rings and 1 set of beaded rings
Hiya Hiya interchangeable circular needles, I use these as they have a handy hole to thread your life line through. 
Cotton perle 5 weight as my life line
Knitting App on my smart phone,  downloaded from the App Store

If you don't have those tools
Stitch markers,  you can use loops of thread or small rubber bands. I don't recommend using safety pins as they can get caught in your stitches.
Your favourite good quality needles knitting needles and a yarn needle for threading your life line in.
Smooth yarn or strong thread
Pencil and paper.

The yellow thread is my life line which is holding the stitches in case I go wrong and have to rip my work back. The thread means that the stitches can't drop back further. It works like a spare needle holding the row in place.

I thread my cotton perle through the small hole in the metal part of the cord, leaving a shortish tail. Then I can knit as normal and the life line pulls along my row without much effort.

The life line lies along the line of your cord (or needles)

This is the life line through a whole row of my work.
Make sure to take the thread out from the needle before your start your next row. Just let it dangle either end, it won't go anywhere as long as you have a reasonable length either end. 
If you are using aren't using Hiya Hiya needles or your needles don't have a handy hole you will need to knit the line you want to save and then thread the life line through afterwards using a yarn needle. I would thread through the stitch markers as well, so they mark your pattern repeats if you need to pull your work back.
If you go wrong you simply take the needles out of your stitches and rip your work back to the life line.....
.....then insert the needles back in your stitches again, along the line of the life line. Your stitch markers will still be in place as you've pulled the life line through them when you knitted or threaded your life line in.

When you knit your next line you need to drop the original stitch marker so it hangs from the life line....
and insert a new one on the needles. 

Your new stitch markers will mark your place as normal and you will slip them from needle to needle when you reach them. The stitch markers hanging from your life line will come off when you move the life line from one section to the next. I move my life line ever pattern repeat or every 10 rows, depending on how complicated the work is and how often I'm likely to need to unpick my work. I simply hold one edge of my work and carefully pull the line out, ready to knit into the next row. At that point the stitch markers come loose.

When you knit along your next line you may find that your life line is wrapped over the needles. Just move it to the back and knit on as normal..... this.

The other thing I do to make life easier is to keep track of my work row by row and pattern repeat by pattern repeat. I use a knitting App on my smart phone. This was free to download from the App store and keeps multiple projects for me. It keeps track of the row I'm on and the pattern repeat so I know that as of this photo being taken I'm about to knit row 1 of the forth pattern repeat.

I also count how many stitches I have between stitch markers as I'm working. Then I can see if I've gone wrong and on which section without having to reach the end of the row. At that point I can decide if I need to unpick the stitches in that section or if I have to rip my work back to my life line.

There are lots of ways to fix your work, but that's another tutorial in the future.

If you don't have a smart phone a good old fashioned piece of paper works too. I mark off the pattern repeats and rows so I can easily see what repeat I'm on.

And this photo is what it's taking shape to be, along with my fabulous Hiya Hiya project bag and the wonderful coaster that Kay gave me for Christmas.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

Dorset Button Challenge

I'm using my blog for self publication this time. I do lots of talks and demonstrations, not to mention workshop, making Dorset buttons. One of the things that normally comes up is how fast can you make them, and I tell people that a good button maker could turn out a gross a day (that's 144 buttons!) I've always wanted to see how many I can make in a working day so I'm holding a Dorset button challenge on 20th February in the shop. I will be making as many as I can in 12 hours. I'm going to aim for 144 but that is one button every 5 minutes and even I'm not quite that fast, If you want to come and support me then please do. I won't be teaching but you can come and eat cake and drink coffee and squish the woolly goodness on offer.

We're going to be raising money for Parkinsons UK, a charity close to my heart as I have a friend with Parkinsons.

If you can't make the shop but you want to support the cause I've set up a just giving page here so you can sponsor me per button or a set amount.

Sunday, 17 January 2016

Theft and Revelation

I don't normally use my blog to winge about the bad things that happen to me. I prefer to stay positive and see the bright side, and I like to project that bright side to my few readers. After all, you've probably got problems of your own to cope with, without having to listen to mine. However, something horrible happened at the Christmas Farmers market last year which made me really think. I thought I would share these thoughts with you all in the spirit of self discovery. I hope you don't mind.

The Sunday before Christmas was a bad day for many reasons. We all have them I know, where if it can go wrong it will. Thankfully I don't get them very often but this particular Sunday more than made up for the lack. The crowning bad point was discovering that someone had stolen my needle felted rabbit from our stall at the farmers market. You might remember him if you follow our Facebook page. We made them as a group with Erica from Arts, Rush and Cane. He did a sterling job of advertising our felting classes, and the fabulous Arts, Rush and Cane felting kits that we sell, which is why I'd taken him with me. After realising he was gone, and searching fruitlessly for him, I tried to put his theft out of my mind and get on with my day.

But he kept coming back to haunt me. I told myself that I was being stupid. After all, he was a small amount of fluff, pleasingly shaped but not worth very much. I can easily make another one, a better one probably, in about four hours. Yet still I couldn't shake the horrible feeling of loss his theft had left me with. And then I worked out why.

He wasn't just a pleasingly shaped bit of fluff at all. He was a memory of several happy hours spent with friends, learning a new skill. He was a shared feeling of delight on realising that we could all shape fluff into animals almost by magic. He was a sense of pride and achievement in my ability to learn and grow, to gain knowledge and create something new. He was a feeling of accomplishment in a project well finished.

And he was just so damm cute, and I made that cuteness.

So I think it's okay to feel loss over my little bit of fluff, and although the next rabbit will come with me to help sell things, I'm not sure he'll be as good.

On the positive side I did learn that Short Round can be the most sensitive and caring child when faced with someone in distress. He search high and low for my rabbit, hugged me lots more than usual and tried his hardest to make me feel better. When we finally got home, after all the other disasters that happened, he sat in his room and drew me a rabbit to replacethe one I'd lost.

So I'm going to take pride in him instead.

If by chance the person who needed my rabbit so badly reads this, please treat him with respect. He's worth so much more than a little bit of fluff.

Monday, 23 November 2015

Wreath Tutorial

Wreath Tutorial

I've been promising this wreath tutorial for a very long time. Hope you all like it.

Finished Wreath

You will need a piece of foam lagging about 1m long. I bought mine from Wicks for about £2.50. Duct tape, preferably in a colour similar to the knitted or crocheted cover you will make, 100g of DK or Aran weight yarn to make the cover, DK yarn for the flowers in different colours, buttons for the flower centres (I used Dorset buttons obviously. For a Dorset button tutorial have a look here), 4mm knitting needles, 4mm crochet hook, scissors and a yarn needle for sewing up.

You can of course make the whole wreath in knitting or crochet, depending on your skills.

Knit or crochet a flat piece of work slightly thinner and about 3/4 of the length of your lagging. I knitted mine in stocking stitch. Leave very long tails for sewing your cover on later.

Bend the lagging into a ring and tape the ends together with duct tape.

Wrap the duct tape at an angle all round the ring, completely covering it. 

Sew the cover round the outside of the ring using the tail. I used whip stitch.

Sew the ends together. You will need to stretch the cover to fit.

It will look something like this.

For the knitted flowers

Make 5 petals
Cast on 3
K1, Kfb, K1
K1, (Kfb) x 2, K1
K2, (Kfb) x 2, K2
K2, (Kfb) x 4, K2
Stocking stitch for eight rows

Leave stitches on a holder. Break yarn leaving a long tail.

When you have 5 petals thread one of the tails through all the stitches on each petal in turn and pull tight. Join petals in the round by threading the tail through the stitches again.

Weave in to secure and trim.
Using the tails stitch the petals together at the edges from the centre for 1cm. Weave in all the other tails and trim.

Finished flower

For the crocheted flowers

Tension isn’t really important for this pattern. Size 4mm crochet hook, dk yarn about 20m.
4 ch, slip stitch into a ring
Round 1: dc 9 times into ch, ss into 1st dc
Round 2: *ch 2, 4tr into next dc, 2ch, ss into next dc*, repeat from * to * four more times making the last ss into the base of the 1st 2ch - 5 petals.


slip stitch into a ring

1 ch

9 dc into the ring

slip stitch into the first dc


4 tr into the first dc
2 ch

slip stitch into next dc

repeat for the next four petals

five petals together

weave tails through the back

finished flower

Sew the buttons into the centre of the flowers and sew them to the wreath where you want them. Make a loop for hanging the wreath and hang it in pride of place. It's up to you how many flowers and where you put them.
Have fun