October 2022 Studio Hours Recap: Caitlin ffrench on Rug Tufting

16 November 2022

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October took us back to our traditional Studio Hours format of short presentation followed by questions and then show and tell. We were excited to have guest Caitlin ffrench who spoke about her upcoming book Gathering Colour, and her journey with rug tufting (giving us the candid version of her recent D&T article).

Gathering Colour (Kickstarter link) will integrate three parts of her life: textiles (knitting, spinning, weaving), natural art and dye materials, and art practice and ritual. We talked about the use of the term landbase rather than landscape; the term landbase emphasizes that we are a part of the ecosystem and our foraging and growing of materials impacts our bioregion.

She shared her history in textiles, “cannonballing” into learning to knit and design while working at Baaad Anna’s yarn shop in Vancouver. She credits her background in sculpture with some of her early knit design success, as she can think in a three-dimensional way.

In her art practice, Caitlin has been attracted to colour wheels and wildcrafted pigments. She shared a couple of earlier colour wheel works completed in water colour and ceramic glazes from pigments she collected in Iceland. Her desire to blend textiles and pigments led her to producing colour wheel rugs. She considered needle punch but found it to be a slow process. She found a TikTok video on rug tufting and was inspired to try it, ordering a full kit of equipment from Tuft the World.

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Caitlin encouraged us to jump in and try the technique, while sharing tips she figured out through practice. She recommended Kim’s book Make It Mighty Ugly and encouraged us to let go of perfectionism as we learn!

Her early tufted pieces were made with scrap yarns. She started with small colour wheel circles, not wanting to commit large amounts of material to practice items. She then realized that she’d really given herself a challenge, as small pieces are more difficult and circles doubly so! Rug tufting with an electric rug tufting gun is a two-handed, big body movement process. She demonstrated use of the tufting gun, showing us how fast it moves and reminding us to follow basic safe handling rules such as tying back long hair and removing loose clothing and jewelry.

We discussed finishing techniques for the small rugs. She recommended an indoor-outdoor carpet adhesive, a classic carpet underlay for backing, and careful use of a glue gun to tack down the loose edges.

After sharing her experiments and learning pieces, she then shared her dream rug, a 71 cm (28 inch) diameter wool rug showcasing twenty different natural colours. She dyed twenty skeins of Custom Woolen Mills Mule Spinner 2-ply wool yarn with pigments that she’d grown or foraged. The yarns were then wound into double stranded centre-pull balls for use with the rug tufting gun. She detailed how she prepared the canvas/backing fabric, stretching it on a custom-made wood frame and drawing out the twenty pie-wedge shapes.

The day she started the tufting was a stressful day. She had so many resources (time and money) tied up in the project, but her practice and experiments gave her the confidence to start. She has since completed two rugs and has materials for a third. One of the finished rugs is currently displayed in the Wild Pigment Project Group Exhibition in a Santa Fe, New Mexico, art gallery.

Her new dream is to work the same idea of a piece on an even grander scale.

One member commented on the juxtaposition between hard and soft crafts, and the purchasing of materials in hardware stores, sparking a brief discussion as members shared their experiences.

We were impressed by how much yarn gets used, and one member noted he could use rug tufting as a way to work through his large stash. Caitlin found that she was able to work three 71 cm rugs with the twenty skeins of yarn, using approximately 2.2 m per square inch of rug (0.34 m per cm2).

After seeing Caitlin’s presentation, Julie shared an unidentified tool that had been included in a package of textile tools from an antique store in Annapolis Royal, N.S. We all agreed that it appeared to be a manual rug tufting gun!

Show and Tell

As usual, our show and tell was a delightful exposition of inspiration and wonder.

A member shared a basket of dyed yarns and fibres; she had been inspired by Caitlin’s earlier article on planting a dye garden. She used Japanese indigo, marigold, and sage to dye yarns and silk fabric from a wedding dress. For the indigo, she used the salt rub method for fresh leaf indigo; she recommended we wear gloves or we’d be sporting blue hands for days. The author of the indigo article was attending and was happy to see the results!

We then saw an intricate knitted lace shawl with a beaded border, worked in orange yarn. The member is testing the pattern for an upcoming book.

Karri showed the final result of a sweater project we’ve heard about—from the purchasing of her farm, and her sheep, to getting her Southdown Babydoll yarns processed at Long Way Homestead. She modeled her V-neck sweater with dark collar and dark stripes on the raglan shaping. The pattern is a mash-up of Oa from Kate Davies Designs and Seclude (Ravelry link) by Alicia Plummer. The natural colours come from her Star Wars group of sheep, with the dark brown from Leia, Rose, and Rei, and the cream from Soka and Dune. How fun to know exactly which sheep grew the fibre!

Julie shared a new lace swatch printing project, this one a collaboration with a friend. We saw a blue knitted lace swatch, pinned out on a board in preparation for printing. The print will be used for a recipe card exchange; the card will feature a handwritten recipe for lemon crinkle cookies on one side with the print of the lemon-inspired lace swatch (from Lemon Drop Lacy Cable Wrap (Ravelry link)) on the other.

Another member shared her current knitting project, a fabulous light- and dark-stranded colourwork yoke for the night groove sweater (Ravelry link) by Isabel Kraemer. She recommended the new knitting app, Knitrino, for tracking charts. She also shared a beautiful handknit purple top with lace yoke knit from a silk blend yarn.

Kathleen showed the results of her plan to use up three balls of deep teal/green aran weight yarn. First, she knit a pair of cabled mittens. Then, she took the cable motif and put it into a beret. Finally, she worked a cowl with the same cable, knitting until she used up the yarn. She now has a set of matching accessories and says she feels “so grown up.”

And finally, Kim shared an update on her deep dive into weaving and her goal to weave a tallit for her son’s bar mitzvah. She now has a practice piece on the loom at 24 epi (528 ends!) which is much more work than her learning pieces that were made from fingering weight yarns sett at 12 epi. She’s working with a Brassard Tencel warp with deadstock acrylic cones for weft (purchased at Fabcycle). A member sent a warning in the chat to be careful with reed abrasion on the warp with the Tencel.

From Caitlin’s dive into rug tufting and the many projects shared in our show and tell, we all enjoyed the “that escalated quickly” energy of the evening!

Featured image by Jessica Delp on Unsplash.

Copyright © Sarah Thornton except as indicated.
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About Sarah Thornton

Sarah Thornton is a connector - she loves bringing people and ideas together, especially over local fibres and foods. When not teaching college Biology labs, she knits, spins, designs, teaches, and occasionally weaves in her new studio space on Vancouver Island. She's also a cyclist, skier, hiker, and gardener! Find her patterns and classes at sarahthornton.ca and @sarsbarknits on Instagram.

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