Category Archives: Uncategorized

String Maker

Silk on the spindle - my first spun yarn!

I totally learned how to spin!

Last November, way back before I embarked on my impromptu NaSelfProMo, I went to a workshop at the Dublin Knitting and Stitching Show and – finally! finally! – learned how to spin.

See that up there? I spun that. (Or I span it? Not sure…)

That’s about seven and a half metres of 100% tussah silk, spun with a top-whorl drop spindle (see me with all my fancy terminology?), and I am dead proud of it.

The workshop was taught by a lovely North American woman, Ruth MacGregor of Spinning Forth, and the whole experience was a heady combination of electrifying and serene.

From what I gather, after a handful of hours’ experience, the spinning goes much better if you’re relaxed. This can only be a good thing for wound-up, whirly-brained me.

I have more unspun top from the workshop, in colours that would undoubtedly pop against the purple if I put them together (though admittedly this might also cause a rather more squelchy popping effect in the viewer’s eyes), and I … well, I may have had a leeetle credit-card accident in the Oliver Twist stall at the show.

It was all so beautiful.

There was nothing I could do.

I was wandering around after the workshop, in the slightly fevered daze that attends the last half-hour of the show, and as I passed the stall of Mr X Stitch, its doyen, Jamie Chalmers, called out a greeting and asked if I had any highlights from the day. I’d never met Jamie before, but such was his personability that I stopped to chat.

“I’ve just learned how to spin!” I squeed, and Jamie and his colleague – who I believe may have been Bridget Franckowiak, aka BeeFranck – offered their congratulations.

“Learning to spin is one of the most political things you can do, really,” said Jamie.

“My sheep and I are going off the grid!” declaimed Bee (if it was she), with a grand gesture of the arm.

(My sheep and I are going off the grid! I took a moment to savour the accidental iambic pentameter. I love those.)

We agreed that spinning was pretty damn political: a radical revival of a skill that’s been all but wiped from our culture. A statement about autonomy, about individual engagement with the material world.

I told them about Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years – because I rarely miss a chance to enthuse about that book – and we chatted for a while about textile politics, gender politics, and the contemporary craft revival.

It was a lovely, serendipitous moment.

And yes, the acquisition of this new skill feels political, feels important. It’s odd, maybe, but when I started String Revolution I had no notion of learning to spin. I identified as a knitter, an embroiderer, a crocheter, an aspiring quilter.

I saw myself as string user, not a string maker.

It’s only as I’ve become more immersed in the history and politics of textiles that I’ve developed this drive to understand the whole process by which we put simple fibres to the complex, varied, culturally nuanced, multi-faceted matrix of uses that we experience every day.

It wasn’t until I read Should Everyone Spin? (and my brain went woomph!) that I was truly seized with the intention to learn.

And now I’ve taken the first step.

Wonky and exiguous though it be, this little skein is significant.

Skein of silk - my first spun yarn!

So what about you?

Do you know how to spin? Would you like to? Comment and tell me your thoughts!

If you haven’t yet, do join the Revolutionary Horde (aka the String Revolution mailing list). You’ll get the inside track on everything that’s going on at String Revolution, plus discounts, exclusive goodies, and whatever else I dream up to delight you.

I need hardly add that you can unsubscribe at any time, and I’ll never do anything untoward with your contact details.

Working for The Woman

Splodey light

This is a post of highly personal celebration.

Someone asked me recently what I did, and there was this little explosion under my ribs. (I don’t think she saw.)

“I do various things,” I said. “I write fiction, I make textile art, I teach.”

All quite true: I do.

What I didn’t mention was that two important things have changed recently, which make my answer to that question feel very different.


Thing One: Back in November, after much careful thought and discussion, I resigned from my day job (copyeditor at an academic publisher). And somehow, even though I haven’t actually worked there since just before the Feaster was born in 2007, this felt like a major development.

Thing Two: As of December, thanks to the galvanising effect of Thing One and also to the good offices of a kind mentor, I have a literary agent. She’ll be working on placing my novel as soon as I finish the current round of edits.

So when I said “I write fiction, I make textile art, I teach”, an inner part of me was jumping up and down blowing a party squeaker and waving a sparkler. This is it! she was yelling. This is your JOB now!

My work…

I mean, my work – the work that blazes through my nights and days, won’t let me rest, fizzes and bulges in my brain until I sit down and give it what it demands –

…is now my job.

How cool is that?

Very, is how.

And the brilliant thing is, I’m still doing all the same stuff. But now I’m doing it officially. I’m my own boss. I’m out.

It’s like I’ve moved across the street: I’m looking at the same view, but my perspective has changed. This side is sunnier, and more spacious.

The Revolutionary Horde

So you won’t be astonished to hear that I’m working hard on the business side of String Revolution these days. I’ll shortly be opening registration for my shiniest idea yet, a pattern club of such glowing fabulosity that I do the happy dance whenever I think about it.

Aaaaaaand … I’m looking for your help! If you enjoy my work, I urge you to join our mailing list, The Revolutionary Horde. This is where you’ll have prime access to all the new ideas, opportunities, and (let’s not be coy here) discounts I have to offer. You’ll also be able to help me shape the direction of String Revolution, to make sure that what I offer is exactly suited to what you need and desire.

If you’re interested, here’s the form.

(I hope it goes without saying that unsubscribing is a piece of cake, and I’ll never, ever share your details with anyone else.)

Meanwhile, if you felt like raising a whoop for me and my new internal landscape, I’d be delighted!

Up the Revolution!

Farewell, 2011!

Earrings (made with glass beads by beadanna on Flickr), by Léan, December 2011

I’ve had a quite extraordinary year. It feels like I started sprinting in mid-February, and didn’t stop until … well, probably until my grandmother died at the end of September. The pace picked up again in October, with a novel-writing binge followed by a marketing blitz followed by a present-making extravaganza, and whatever notions I might have had about using the time between Christmas and New Year to do some much-needed catching up and planning, they were trumped by a forceful lethargy that I am attributing only partly to the sinusy headcold that has had me in its snotty grip all week.

No matter!

Have some pretty pictures of some of my handmade presents this year.

Up at the top there, you see the earrings I made for my mother (left) and a cousin (right). Get me with my arty shot setup, and so forth. The large glass beads are by Anna Felton, who sells at the Dublin Food Co-op: each one is unique, and I think they’re utterly gorgeous. See more of her work on Flickr – I know she’s in the process of developing an online shop, but I don’t think it’s up yet.

Quilted leaves, pictured with their templates, by Léan, December 2011

For my mother-in-law, I made a set of quilted leaves, using the same technique as for the little wall hanging I made in 2010. Here they all are, mixed in with the cardboard templates I used. I made eleven altogether, each one a faithful portrait of an actual leaf collected last year by the mother-in-law, the children, and me. We’ll decide together, at our leisure, how to arrange and mount them.

Cowl, Yarn Harlot's _Pretty Thing_, knitted by Léan, December 2011

For my mother, I dashed off a cowl by the estimable Yarn Harlot, called Pretty Thing. Very satisfactory: definitely pretty, and unquestionably a thing. Additionally, lots of fun to knit, and designed with the sort of skill and care that makes me glow happily inside. I knitted it in Araucania Botany Lace from This Is Knit, which I bought at the Knitting and Stitching Show in November. Not the absolute rightest yarn for the pattern, arguably, as it tends to swallow the stitch detail – but so soft! [Ravelled here]

Silk tie, handmade and hand-embroidered with the Italian word

For my father, I took some raw silk that I’d bought in … oh, probably the early 1990s, from Shree on Grafton Street (anyone?), and made a tie – which I forgot to photograph until we were all gathered in my parents’ candlelit kitchen, hence the terrible shot. I embroidered on it the Italian word “Sprezzatura”, meaning something along the lines of “nonchalant brilliance”, about which my father has just written a paper (he being an academic and all).

Speaking of forgetting to take photographs, not pictured are a hasty hat, knitted for my brother in unspeakably smooshy Debbie Bliss Paloma from This Is Knit (the shop itself, this time); and a beaded choker with matching earrings, which I made for my sister in a workshop at the Knitting and Stitching Show.

This won’t seem like much to some of you, but I’m frankly quite impressed at how many presents I managed to finish this year. It beats the last couple of years by a long, long way.

Meanwhile, I have major big plans for 2012, both on this blog and elsewhere. Join the Revolutionary Horde (yes, it’s a mailing list, but where’s the fun in that?) if you want the low-down. Form’s up there in the right-hand sidebar; I’ll always treat your contact details with respect and care.

And finally…

Happy new year, my lovely readers! Thank you so much for being here, and I hope 2012 brings you an endless succession of good things. I hug you!

ALL the Things, no. 6: Get It Done!

This week I’m summarising the heap of offers and announcements I’ve made in the last little while. Some of them, you might have noticed the first time around – in which case, please pass along with my gratitude for your patience. Others, you might have missed – in which case, I hope you see something you love.

Boatman in progress

Thing the Sixth: Get It Done!

We string-mongers are usually up to our ears in projects around this time of year, what with the approaching juggernaut of festivity and gift-giving.

Are you daunted by the prospect of getting it all finished in time? Let me help!

With my new arty-crafty-coaching service, Get It Done, you’ll see clearly where you’re at and where you’re going, and you’ll reach the finish line with a firm grip on the reins and a smile on your face.

There are two client spots left for this service in 2011. If you’d like to be one of them, click here and sign up!

Well. This concludes our whistle-stop tour of what I’m amused to call NaSelfProMo.

I am now going to retire to a safe distance and draw breath.

See you soon!

ALL the Things, no. 5: Colonial Eggacy!

This week I’m summarising the heap of offers and announcements I’ve made in the last little while. Some of them, you might have noticed the first time around – in which case, please pass along with my gratitude for your patience. Others, you might have missed – in which case, I hope you see something you love.

Colonial Eggacy (could it be the worst pun-cluster in the universe?)

Thing the Fifth: Colonial Eggacy!

You’ll remember this one, if you know me at all, because I’ve barely shut up about it since it went live.

Anyone just joining us, if you appreciate this execrable pun you can buy it on products at my Zazzle shop.

And if it’s not to your taste, well, what could be a more perfect gift for the pun-loving critic of colonialism in your life?

Incidentally, I’ve added a bag and a magnet to the product range since we last spoke.

Zazzle’s Christmas shipping deadlines are coming up pretty soon, by the way:

  • For dark-coloured T-shirts: 4 December (that’s this Sunday)
  • For light-coloured T-shirts, mugs, bags, and magnets: 8 December (that’s this Thursday)
  • Or you can pay express rates up to 16 December and 19 December respectively

…so get your order in before it’s too late!

PS: Is it wrong that “perfidious albumen” still makes me giggle?

ALL the Things, no. 4: Secret Crowns and Capes!

This week I’m summarising the heap of offers and announcements I’ve made in the last little while. Some of them, you might have noticed the first time around – in which case, please pass along with my gratitude for your patience. Others, you might have missed – in which case, I hope you see something you love.

Night Queen crown, by Léan

Thing the Fourth: Secret Crowns and Capes!

Remember this one? I make crowns! And capes! They may be actual and obvious, like the sparkly golden crown pictured here, or they may be secret. To the outside observer, a secret crown looks like … a headscarf. And a secret cape looks like … a wrap.

Me in my secret crown    The emblem on my secret crown

So what makes them crowns, then, or capes? Well, concealed within their innocent-looking folds is a hand-embroidery of your personal words or emblems. Now you can dress yourself in your favourite concepts.

Secret Crowns and Capes: they’re like semantic armour.

What will yours say?

Very limited spots left in 2011…

ALL the Things, no. 3: Stitch My Kid’s Art Commission Service!

This week I’m summarising the heap of offers and announcements I’ve made in the last little while. Some of them, you might have noticed the first time around – in which case, please pass along with my gratitude for your patience. Others, you might have missed – in which case, I hope you see something you love.

Boatman: drawn by the Oyster, stitched by Léan

Thing the Third: Stitch My Kid’s Art Commission Service!

You probably didn’t notice this one being launched. I didn’t do it very loudly.

But it might be the best thing in the world ever.

You send me an image of some child art that makes your heart leap. I turn it into a unique textile piece that will melt you into a big happy puddle every time you catch sight of it.

Yes, it’s the Stitch My Kid’s Art Commission Service. What could be simpler?

One client spot left in 2011, by the way…

ALL the Things, no. 2: Embroidery Kits!

This week I’m summarising the heap of offers and announcements I’ve made in the last little while. Some of them, you might have noticed the first time around – in which case, please pass along with my gratitude for your patience. Others, you might have missed – in which case, I hope you see something you love.

Four simple embroidery designs featuring text

Thing the Second: Embroidery Kits!

I derive a nerdy joy from the semantic intersections between “textile” and “text”.

Or to put it another way, I love stitching words.

If you do too – or if you know someone who doescheck out my new embroidery kits: each of the four designs pictured above is still available.

Furthermore, I’ve just added a bundle option: all four for the price of three.

One reminder, though: You must order by Friday 2 December, which is three days away.

Look, as an added enticement, here’s my EGO, all stitched up:

Embroidered EGO!

So, in conclusion go here to get your kits – by Friday!

ALL the Things, no. 1: Join the Revolutionary Horde!

Valiant sweet peas still flowering in my November garden

What’s been going on at String Revolution these past few weeks?

What, indeed?

November is a month of hive-like activity in much of the (online, rich) world. There’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), which you may have heard of, wherein writers attempt to produce 50,000 words in 30 breakneck, exhilarating, hilarious days.

Some bloggers, in response to this, have instituted NaBloPoMo (National Blog Posting Month), wherein they attempt to post every day for 30 days.

Visual artists, eschewing the restrictive confines of the “Na…Mo” label, undertake Art Every Day Month each November. And I’m sure there are more examples.

I’ve done none of these things. In fact, what I’ve done has lacked any kind of coherent planning. But nonetheless, there has been a shift in the wind around these parts, and I’ve caught the mood of the month. I’ve been announcing things. I’ve been making offers. I’ve been marketing. Best of all (if you’re me), I’ve been selling.

You could call it NaSelfProMo.

Ha. I like that.


As I say, I didn’t plan it this way. Most of the things I’ve posted about this month have been incubating for ages, but this is the first opportunity I’ve had to focus and get them out. So they’ve all come along in a big lump, instead of a carefully controlled trickle.

I feel like a bit of a late bloomer – like these valiant sweet peas, which just won’t stop flowering in my November garden.

Anyway, throughout this week I want to tell you again about the various offers and changes and so on, so you’ll be sure not to miss any of them. It’s a series, people!

Thing the First: The Revolutionary Horde!

I’ve been meaning to do this for ages, and now it’s finally here: String Revolution has a shiny new mailing list. Obviously, it’s called the Revolutionary Horde.

The Revolutionary Horde: Wait … that’s us!
Me: Yes! You’ve been reified, innit.

Horde members get special stuff:

  1. Advance notice of all my new offers.
  2. Discounts on selected products and services.
  3. Invitations to Horde-only events online.
  4. String-related writing that won’t appear on the blog.

Sound good to you? Join the Revolutionary Horde using this lovely fuchsia-red signup form up (or the one in the right-hand sidebar – it makes no difference).

And let me hear a Hooray!

New Embroidery Designs!

Four simple embroidery designs featuring text

One of my many little passions concerns the use of text in visual art. I’m particularly fond of embroidering words. For some reason, the act of stitching a word feels incredibly powerful. Text … textile … texture … it’s all there.

So back in August, when it was suggested that I propose a workshop for the super-fabulous handmAid Craft Day, it’s not too surprising that I ended up teaching a beginners’ embroidery class where we used some simple line stitches to work wordy patterns.

(The Craft Day was unspeakable amounts of fun, incidentally. My class had five participants – all uncommonly quick learners – and it was such a buzz to see their skills improve over the two hours.)

Those are my four designs up there. I brought along two copies of each so that people would have a choice.

And nobody wanted to stitch “EGO”! I was surprised. Are you surprised? I think that one is deliciously subversive.


I have leftover traced designs. I have more fabric. I have a fineliner pen and a makeshift lightbox, and I’m not afraid to use them. So I’m thinking … kits.



Each kit will include the following:

  • A square of vintage white linen with the design hand-traced on it
  • A 6″ / 15cm wooden embroidery hoop
  • Two embroidery needles
  • Pre-cut discs of wadding (aka batting), card, and cotton fabric, for finishing
  • Full printed instructions

To complete the project, you will also need embroidery threads and a short length of ribbon or cord for hanging the finished piece.

(I thought about including these elements too. But colour is such a personal thing – I prefer to leave those choices up to you.)

I will be selling sixteen kits in total – four in each design. Each kit is priced at US$27 – including postage anywhere in the world.

Speaking of postage…

This year’s posting deadline for parcels sent worldwide from Ireland to arrive in time for Christmas is 6 December. It’s later for places closer to Ireland, of course, but I’m not keen on going down to the wire with these.

Therefore, I’m setting a cutoff date for orders, of Friday 2 December. I’ll guarantee dispatch by 6 December, and we can all rest easy. (Also, this way you’ll have more time to make the project as a gift, if that’s your game.)

The backs of the embroidery pieces, neatly finished with a circle of cotton

So, to repeat, order your kit by Friday 2 December

(Gosh, you know, that’s less than a week from now. Eek!)

Here are the designs:

Embroidery design: 42


It’s the Ultimate Answer! To the Ultimate Question! Of Life! The Universe! And Everything!

With its open shapes and absence of fiddly bits, this is the simplest of the four designs. Rather like the Answer, really.

42, man. Deep Thought would definitely want you to stitch this.

Embroidery design: EGO


I think this one is my favourite (today, at least). I love the way it quietly turns the social history of embroidery inside out, matching the Victorian ideal “feminine” activity with that indecorous allusion to the self – writ LARGE, and all.

Bold curves, straight lines: “EGO” is more of a challenge than “42”, but not by much.

Do you have what it takes to stitch this?

Embroidery design: dare


This design was the most popular at my workshop in September. I love the simple exhortation. Unassuming, yet assertive. Quietly exciting.

Tighter curves and more complex letter shapes make “dare” a little more challenging than either “42” or “EGO”, but it’s still well within the reach of a beginner.

Dare. Do you?

Embroidery design: The Truth

The Truth

Oh, you know me. Nobody could call me dishonest. But I do have this tendency –

The Revolutionary Horde: Oh … I just got that. Oh dear.
Me: This tendency, as I was saying … to embroiderTHE TRUTH!

*sound of thousands of thighs being slapped in paroxysms of uncontrollable mirth*

Geddit? Oh, go on. You know you want to. (This is the trickiest design, obviously, what with the twiddles and the tight curves. Worth it, though.)

All four embroidery kits - Bundle option!

Bundle Option!

NEW! Someone suggested a bundle, and I said to myself, “Damn, why didn’t I think of that?”

You can now buy all four designs for the price of three. That’s $81, instead of $108, saving you $27.

Please tell me in the PayPal “notes” field if you’d like the kits packaged separately when I send them to you (for instance, if you’re giving some or all of them as gifts). Otherwise, I’ll do the sustainable thing and use one set of packaging for all four.

Deadline is still this Friday!