In Our Tools, Ourselves, we get to know fiber artisans of all walks, ages, styles and skill levels, by way of their tools. For more on the series, read the introduction.
Among the many people I’m looking forward to seeing in Seattle this week is Tif Fussell, better known as dottie angel, who is utterly unique and one of the funniest people I’ve met in the craft world. She’s also responsible for my using the British expression “pants” as often as possible in conversation lately, as in “I realize I have been most pants at actually answering what you ask and could in fact have a very good career as a politician ... .” You can find her on her blog, Instagram and Facebook, and be sure to take a peek at her crochet patterns on Ravelry. Thanks for doing this, Tif!
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Do you knit, crochet, weave, spin, dye, sew … ?
I am crafter who likes to sew, hand embroider, appliqué, crochet and dabble in knitting, being particularly fond of working with recycled and vintage fabrics alongside of yarn. I cannot recall a time when I did not make something with my hands. If I am not making with my hands, I get quite ‘not nice’ to know. I am a self-taught crafter — my limitations therefore created my style of patching and piecing things together in a pleasing way to me, and in turn became the crafting style of dottie angel. From there I have evolved into applying this method towards a multitude of makes. I tend to be much happier making things up as I go along rather than following a pattern, for if I do end up following a pattern, chances are quite high I will go off the path or, at the very least, add a bit of bling to the end result. I am also rather fond of rectangles and squares when it comes to yarny matters. They truly can become something quite glorious when all is said and done.
Tell us about your tool preferences and peccadilloes.
I love wood or vintage tools; I love the look, the feel, and the history which comes with them. However, nine times out of ten I do not find they work so well for me, and I end up using tools which do the job brilliantly but, to my eye, look quite pants compared to handmade or vintage tools. Oh but saying that, I do have a lovely pair of scissors which I found at Tolt Yarn and Wool and another, larger size on a pottle in Portland. They are beautiful and I blinged them quite happily with some frayed fabric on the handles, just so they knew how much I loved them.
How do you store or organize your tools? Or do you?
I have a drawer of shame when it comes to knitting needles and hooks. I tell myself it is okay because the drawer belongs to a fabby midcentury cupboard but alas, they are scattered in there willy nilly, and now that I have circular needles too it is getting out of control. I wish this were not the case but it is. However, I am delighted to report I am more organized with my sewing notions, preferring to use old vintage colanders, cook pots and baskets to keep things where they should be. Everything has its place; it’s just that some places are sadly more messy than others.
How do you store or organize your works-in-progress?
My yarny works-in-progress live in an enamel bowl which is easy to pick up and take to stitch circle at Tolt Yarn and Wool if need be, or live by the fireplace ready for when we have a few moments to spend quality time together. It also pleases me greatly should I glance upon my bowl during the day. My fabric works-in-progress are laid out in my ‘atelier of sorts’ where I can pottle past and ponder en route to doing domestics or procrastinating. Quite often I have to return to the scene when I am working on fabric creations to discover it was not a crime after all which was being committed, but something rather peachy.
Are there any particularly prized possessions amongst your tools?
Without a doubt, that would be Miss Ethel, my trusty sewing machine. She is a workhorse with no bells or whistles, she knows how to get the job done and she does it well. Without her steady influence I would be lost. In a fire, she would be the one I would grab alongside of my recently embroidered mittens, of which I am smitten. You could point out my mittens are not tools as such but I must include them, for Miss Ethel and my mittens are equally highly prized by me.
Do you lend your tools?
I have never lent a tool and now I am wondering why this is? I wonder if I give off the vibe of “do not ask Tif, for she would never lend”. I have my granny in my ear from when I was a small being saying “never a lender nor a borrower be” and perhaps all these years I have carried that invisibly about my person, thus no one has asked to borrow a tool of mine, thus I have not lent. When my clan of 4 were small and compact, living in England at the time meant we did an awful lot of rainy day crafting, which required lots of pairs of scissors. I would make sure my fabric scissors were clearly marked with a fabric tag for fear they would be used on paper by a little one. Was it Shakespeare or some ancient bod who wrote “hell have no fury like a woman scorned noting her fabric scissors have been used on paper”? Alas I fear I give off a ‘not a lender’ vibe which I will add to the top of my new year’s resolutions, to rectify promptly.
What is your favorite place to knit/crochet/whatever?
If I am knitting then it takes all my concentration (sometimes with tongue sticking out), therefore I must knit solo — unless it is squares, then I can relax a bit. If I am crocheting, I am much more social and carefree. If I sew with Miss Ethel (my trusty sewing machine), once again I fly solo for I am in my happy place, just her and me doing what we do best. If I am hand embroidering, I am happy to be in company but again, I am muchly happy to be on my own. It would appear I like to craft alone, at home, for crafting is my therapy. I put the world to rights in my head and I cannot do that unless I am alone. Perhaps it is a fall back to the days when our home was filled with noise and small beings and I would retreat to my crafting for quiet at the end of the day. However can I just say, whatever or whenever I am crafting at home, my constant canine companions are always close by, they are terribly good at listening without judgment, not talking back and admiring my creations however dodgy they may be turning out to be.
What effect do the seasons have on you?
I am a lover of the seasons, having only ever lived where seasons come and go. I go into full-on nesting mode which involves many a cunning plan to knit or crochet when the chilly days appear. And when the sun becomes my friend again, I find it most tricky to give yarn any consideration. Fabric on the other hand is a year round creativity for me, not in the least affected by the seasons. Therefore it would be true to say, yarn can fall out of favor, whereas fabric is always in favor with me.
Do you have a dark secret, guilty pleasure or odd quirk, where your fiber pursuits are concerned?
Can it be a confession? For I must confess, as I have carried it inside for donkeys years: My trusty crochet hook is just not a handsome chappy yet he does a fine job at stopping the old aches and pains in my joints. However, I am ashamed to admit, his non-aesthetic ways do not please when it comes to taking photos, and I will lay out my natty bit of crocheted goodness and heartlessly toss him aside for a ‘staged’ bamboo hook for the photo opportune moment. Yes I am a rotter of the worse kind, and just confessing this sin has me weighed down even more in guilt for my Mr Hook and not feeling in the least bit lighter, as I had hoped.
What are you working on right now?
Like so many makers, I have a fair few things I should be working on or deadlines looming yet I have mastered the fine art of procrastination, resulting in many hours spent making and doing what pleases me, rather than what is of priority. I have tried in more recent times to pull up my crafty knee socks and get a better balance, thus I work on the must-dos, and give myself a pat on the back with a day off pottling about my crafty space without agenda. Recently my bonce (head) has been filled with notions of:
1. embroidered knitted mittens and fingerless friends
2. macramé oversized, cascading down the wall, made with leftover threads and yarn
3. vintage hmong strings of happy
4. doilified dream catchers with beards
5. 1930s knitted neck warmers
6. oversized pom poms made from a variety of leftover yarns
7. making another set of knitted sleeves proving to myself second sleeve syndrome does not have to be for life
8. plump roundie crocheted cushions made from the gigantic yarn cone I bought back from my travels to Marrakech earlier in the year
9. adding to my granny trousseau. I am not yet to be a granny but I am planning for the future as my knitting of small garments is slow going. I will make it a lending library of sorts for my clan, to love and to use and then to return for the next small being in line
10. publishing my dottie angel frock pattern in the late spring of next year
Yes, that is what my head is filled with, day and night, some of which I am working on, some of which is in the pipeline for a rainy procrastinating sort of day to come along, and all bar one are personal, hence proving my knee socks have not been pulled up after all and my ability to become a professional crafter is still a long way away.
PREVIOUSLY in Our Tools, Ourselves: Jen Beeman (Grainline Studio)
Photos © Tif Fussell