linen dish cloth

When the countertops and cutting boards, the faucets and the sink are all wiped down with a good clean cloth, I’m quite content. Linen fibre is strongest when wet, so it makes an ideal dish cloth. I adore the texture and gloss of wet-spun linen, at once hardy plant fibre and fine silk, artless pastoral and opulence combined.

These cloths are a great little project to pick up and stitch when there are quieter moments in the day. All you need is some linen yarn and a crochet hook in your pocket, and the simple pattern, below.

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The qualities of linen

Like rustic clothing, the difference between store-bought and handmade is often its strength. They’re certainly not cheaper than the imported cotton dishcloths we can easily buy, but then they last so long, and please me so much. In using natural linen we sidestep destructive farming practices, pesticides and toxic dyes. There are even folks experimenting with local flax production, and you can grow it easily yourself! To demonstrate the wonderful process of transforming flax to gold, there’s a an old bit of Canadiana on the subject, too.

linen-cloth-natural

Linen care

To care for these linen cloths, we just throw them in the wash as usual, cold or hot, with a drop of tea tree oil to kill any germs. I imagine it doesn’t get musty or stain as easily, but I might just take extra care to hang it to dry, because it’s handmade and beautiful. We hang them or lay them on a flat, waterproof surface like our countertops, and sometimes block them. Block them?

linen-cloth-pewter

Blocking is what you do to shape any knit, woven, crocheted piece, and is simply arranging it back into shape and allowing it to dry that way. You can get fancy with special pins and boards, if you were blocking pieces of a sweater before sewing it, so that it would fit perfectly together. But for the linen dish cloths, you’re just laying them flat while they’re wet or damp, and patting, pulling, shaping back to a square, then leaving them to dry. Shaping is ten-second task. No harm in skipping this part, either. It does please me to see them back in their fine shape.

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Theme and variation

Crocheting linen fibre makes these pieces a little bit rustic, a little bit ornate, and thoroughly handmade. I love to use these cloths to experiment with variation in crochet patterns.

Linen dish cloth pattern

I like to use a heavier linen yarn like Euroflax, and a 4.5mm hook – aim to have the hook larger than what’s called for, to get that open weave.

Chain 27 stitches, and work into them half-double-crochet, double crochet, or triple crochet, repeating until you have a square.

I like to stitch the rows in hdc, and then finish with a restrained ruffled edge: chain 6, slipstitch to attach at every 5th stitch, and repeat to the row’s end. Then work back with 6 or 7 double crochets around that loop you’ve made, just enough that the ruffle lies flat, working a slip stitch into the previous slipstitches. Tie it off very firmly. Rinse the piece and block it!

linen-cloth-natural

Linen cloths make a nice accompaniment to a trusty stiff brush, and a stack of linen tea towels. Elegant tools make the work far easier, far more agreeable, I think. They encourage mindfulness in presence in everyday labours. We love these useful, perennial favourites.

linen-cloths-stacked

linocut carving

We gathered our newly acquired printmaking tools around a shady table in the garden, and spent the afternoon carving the linocuts. Would you like to try it?

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

Have a couple of blades, a v-blade and a rounded gouging blade, and a handle or two, a pencil and eraser, and a sheet of printing linoleum. Our table had an uneven spot where we could brace the linoleum as we worked, but a bench is ideal. Strong shears to cut the piece to size later are also useful. Draw a simple design, nothing too detailed, keeping in mind that you’ll be working with subtractive cutting – slicing away around the image, leaving the drawing raised to take the ink. I’ve begun by translating a bit of my logo.

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

We were working on a very warm day, otherwise it is a great idea to carefully warm the linoleum near a lightbulb, or with a hairdryer, to make it easier to work. Following our wood-carving practices, we outlined the shapes with the v-shaped blade. Always cut away from you! (Mind that children are carefully supervised and taught to keep little hands out of the way of blades. A good first aid kit is worth having nearby!)

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

Wiggle the blade a little as you cut to help it move without jumping away with the pressure. Slow and steady. Once all the lines are cut, take them a little deeper with the little v-blade. Like wood, if the cuts are nice and deep, it will prevent the drawn area from being lifted or damaged as the material in the negative space is cut away from the image.

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

Use the rounded blade to begin to lift the linoleum from around your image, again with a slow wiggle, working away from you.

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

If your first cuts are deep enough, you can cut right up to them without fear of nicking the image. Begin to clear a low-relief of linoleum.

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

I sheared the piece down to size with some heavy snips, as I was working a petite image. Later I’ll mount the matrix on a block of wood for easy stamping, but this isn’t necessary. My tall girl was capable of cutting her own subtractive pieces, but I carved the small one’s drawings out with her, holding the tool together, usually just cutting away the drawing itself.

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

A flat-sided blade seemed just the thing to smooth out the negative space. Do you think that’s what it was for? Sometimes I’d rather go ahead and do it, with a guess, than wait to be correct, and never do it! (Yes, I did later attack the surface of my piece to give it texture, it wasn’t a mistake!)

linocutting © elisa rathje 2012

All ready for inking, or mounting on a block and stamping! I’m delighted with linocut carving. Carving, drawing, printmaking are such pleasurable old skills. Working with my hands is a meditation for me. Next, printing! Will you join me? Back with that soon.

yo-yo

Like so many traditional toys, the yo-yo has been popular across cultures for the last 2500 years. It’s had a great history, with a tremendous burgeoning in popularity in the 1920’s and 1960’s, and still it persists. Like jacks and jump-rope, the yo-yo is not as easy as it looks. My own skills are quite sorry in this regard. Fortunately my smallest child has agreed to show us how it’s done.

So, I think the idea is that the moment it touches down, you lift a little bit to encourage it to wind back up. I’ll keep practicing. Maybe one day I’ll be able to do the sleeper, or walk the dog.

traditional wooden yo-yo

red currants

By the middle of July the red currant bush is heaving with ruby fruit. Each year I see it fruiting, all glamourous and jewelled, and a few possibilities go through my mind.

red currants

Red currant cordial, a boozy version with rum and spices? Red currant jelly, lightly sweetened with apple and stevia? Frozen red currants to throw over ice cream and other lovely things! What would you make? I’m still considering the delicious prospects.

quilted mats

Do you remember some patchwork quilted placemats I was making? I used the projects to experiment with patchwork and stitching various quilted patterns. Four of them were just right to fit round our table.

patchwork quilted placemat © elisa rathje 2012

I’m quite pleased with how they turned out. I quilted a diamond shape, a simple angle, overlapping circles, and squares. The patchwork on these quilted mats is quite vivid, often I prefer to turn them linen-side up. I made my own linen bias tape to finish them, amazing how that brings it all together.

patchwork quilted placemat © elisa rathje 2012

Oh, I do miss that bright little room in the old English cottage.