Friday, 7 January 2022

...focussing in

Too much dwelling on The Big Picture sent my inner Eeyore into overdrive in December, making me feel very gloomy and grey - in a standing alone in a thistly corner of the Forest, thinking, "I shouldn't be surprised if it hailed a good deal tomorrow" kind of way. I'm not a big fan of Christmas. I don't mean the religious festival (although marking the Winter Solstice and the gradual return of the light holds more significance for me). I mean the commercialisation and the relentless social pressure to consume - eat, drink, spend, be merry, etc. - because "it's the most wonderful time of the year", even though for many (most?) it's patently not.

Realising that my Grinch-like chuntering was starting to wear a little thin with my nearest and dearest, and in an attempt to sustain my inner Pollyanna, I decided to start paying attention to the little things/achievements that made me feel happy or 'glad' in the moment - to focus in on the tiny details in my bit of The Big Picture and let the rest recede into a distant blur. So these are some of the things that happened in those "sparkly moments".
  •  At the start of the month (as mentioned in my last post) I came across the #carvedecember2021 Instagram challenge to carve a stamp, using a one word prompt, each day throughout December. This is where my hoarding of artistic tools and materials becomes a strength, rather than a weakness - lino cutters, scalpel, lino blocks and even ink (last used at least twenty years ago) were unearthed from a drawer, and away I went, keeping things very simple and (mostly) just going with the first idea that popped into my head. 2021 has definitely been the year of moving away from perfectionism and "just doing it". It started with the #100daychallenge2021 and ended with this. I don't think it's the best work I've ever done, but I'm still pleased I did it!
  • A Miss Marple scarf I knitted for my Mum. I wasn't sure I'd got quite the right colour until I saw her wearing it - she looks so pretty in pink!
  • One day I took a whole load of photos of sunlight shining through fallen leaves at the park. The low winter sun was at just the right angle to make them glow like fiery butterfly wings.
  • I didn't complete the #carvedecember2021 challenge. First I missed one day, then the next, and then I gave myself permission to stop. Once upon a time the incompleteness would have felt like failure, but I'm choosing to focus on what I achieved instead - I love the tiny tree stamp that happened on Day 14. It's about 1 cm wide and took about 10 minutes to carve, but it's the one that pleased me the most. 
  • I was invited to go to a Christmas meal out with my former work-mates in mid December, but decided I couldn't risk it with Omicron on the rise. So I made a "lucky dip" bag of festive pebbles for everyone instead.
  • I finished my Harmony granny square blanket whilst binge-watching 'The Good Wife'. The photo shows a section of the rainbow border, which turned out to be my favourite part of the blanket. This was such a satisfying, joyful project, and I'm so pleased that I actually got round to making it after nearly five years with the kit just sitting in a bag on the shelf, making me feel guilty every time I saw it! 
  • More focussing in - this time a raindrop-bejewelled spider's web in the privet hedge. So delicate and beautiful.
  • A spectacular sunrise through the back bedroom window. I love this old factory building, even though it's ugly-beautiful in a L.S. Lowry kind of way. 
  • Just before Christmas my husband had his annual 'Inadequate Presents Anxiety Meltdown' about his parents, who are notoriously difficult to please. There is nothing they really want or need, and gift-buying for them is always a struggle. Did I mention I'm not a fan of Christmas? So I offered to make some additional last-minute presents to add to the bits and pieces we'd already bought. I adapted the Miss Marple Scarf pattern to create a less bow-like, more 'masculine' shape, and knitted a 'Mr Marple Muffler' in my father-in-law's favourite Rugby League team colours - green and orange 'Myrtle and Flame' ...
  • ...and painted a little pebble portrait of our XXSCat dog for my mother-in-law. The XXSCat dog is absolutely adored by both of them, so this was a definite crowd-pleaser on the day. Mission 'Save My Husband's Sanity' accomplished.
  • A tree within a tree...I'm like the boy in 'The Sixth Sense', except I see trees, not dead people. Infinitely preferable, I imagine!
  • Leftover Harmony blanket yarn plus assorted scraps from the stash - a solid granny square baby blanket is forming. No specific baby in mind, but there's bound to be one sooner or later. N.b. The colours are much nicer in real life.
2022 has begun, the light is increasing every day, and equilibrium has been restored to the Eeyore/Pollyanna continuum. Happy New Year!

Thursday, 2 December 2021

...crochet hooked

Over the past 4 or 5 weeks (basically since 23rd October) every spare waking moment has been spent making granny squares for my Attic24 Harmony blanket, which arrived at the "join as you go" lap-warmer stage just in time for Storm Arwen and the first snow of winter, last weekend. 

To say I've been obsessed is putting it mildly. Granny squares are simply too moreish. If I hadn't had the structure of someone else's pattern to follow (14 sets of 9 identical squares) I think I could easily have vanished down a rabbit-hole of infinite colour combinations, and been lost to everyday life forever. 
Not surprsingly, the impact on my Home-made Christmas Presents (HCP) Plan for 2021 has been disastrous (zero progress made). Eventually I had to take myself to one side and have a stern word in my ear: "After November no more crochet allowed unless progress has been made with the HCP List during the day!"  

This rule came into force yesterday (December 1st) and so far I've definitely been testing my own boundaries. Yesterday I made 5 masks (3 people had been in touch asking for new ones after the latest Covid mandates) and then crocheted like mad for the rest of the day, reasoning that a "job" had been completed...maybe not a job from the HCP List, but a non-crochet job, nevertheless. So now I only have 9 more squares to join before I'm on to the border! 

This morning I discovered a new daily creative challenge on Instagram (#carvedecember2021 - carve a stamp, using a one word prompt, each day throughout December) and (naturally) spent the morning making two little lino-cuts in order to catch up with everyone else...

...again, not a job from the HCP List (or any other list come to that) but definitely non-crochet. I reckon I can get back in my good books this afternoon, though, by finally making a start on an official HCP List job - knitting a Miss Marple scarf for my Mum. This is intended to ease me in gently - it's not crochet, but it does involve yarn. Nice, purply-pink, chunky yarn, which will knit up quickly...

...leaving time for a bit of guilt-free crochet tonight! 

Thursday, 4 November 2021

...year, month, day

Year: 2021 is shaping up to be The Year of the Mushroom. Ever since I spotted the hare's foot ink cap mushrooms at the park in October I seem to find little fun guys wherever I go. These four photos were taken in just the last week. It reminds me of 2017...
...The Year of Butterflies and Moths, when wonderful winged creatures appeared at every turn.
Month: November will be The Month of Crochet. Having hoarded my Harmony Blanket yarn for around four and a half years, last week I picked up a crochet hook (for the first time in nearly fifty years) and now I can't stop with these pesky granny squares. "Just one more row!" has been replaced with"Just one more round!" I'm even managing to be patient with the constant darning in of ends that this entails. At the rate I'm going I should be on target to get all 126 squares finished by the end of the month...
Day: I'm officially reinstating The Leaf of the Day hunt during my (almost) daily park walks. It's a tough job (I couldn't decide which of these three zingers should be awarded the title yesterday) but someone has to do it.

Tuesday, 26 October 2021

...Seahouses VIII

Day 1: An hour's walk (there and back) along the beach at Beadnell, taking advantage of the 'first hour is free' parking before checking in to the cottage. Kite surfers, in the distance, were making the most of the wind and waves just after high tide.
Day 2: Back at my beloved St. Aiden's beach, with such joy in my heart. We walked almost to Bamburgh and back, whilst I collected photos of lapis-and-turquoise-lined crab shells. This beach is truly a magical place. I took the bottom left crab shell back to the cottage and by the time it had dried, the intense blue lining had faded to a pale whitish-grey...

Day 3: We drove to Craster and walked along the coast to Dunstanburgh Castle, then spent a happy hour amongst the rockpools and seaweed on the shoreline. 

Day 4: Back at Beadnell beach for a 'proper' walk (to the rockpools at the end and back). This ticked all my beach boxes - mother of pearl reflections of sky on the sand, seaweed hieroglyphics, colour, texture, and fairy-tale forest sandscapes. Pure bliss. 
Afterwards, a visit to the harbour in Seahouses at high tide - huge rainbow-tinged waves crashing over the breakwater...
...and an accidental Rothko on the hull of a boat.
Day 5: We had to be up and out of the cottage by 9am (Covid rules) and it was pouring with rain. Rather than risk a 3 hour drive in soaking wet clothes we opted to cut our losses and set off for home, knowing that we will be back again next year.

Au revoir Seahouses!

Sunday, 17 October 2021

...eye candies

Last month I broke my self-imposed rule of 'Trying Not To Buy More Yarn' and bought two skeins of Lana Grossa self striping 'Gioia' - partly because they were reduced and I had birthday money to spend, but mostly because (like Alison Moyet) I go weak in the presence of beauty. One skein in vivid rainbow brights, and one in all the blues, just begging to be made into a ZickZack scarf, full of random/serendipitous stripey juxtapositions. This was a joyous thing to knit - with a visual symphony of colour flowing from my needles, and an easily memorised pattern making it perfect for 'TV knitting'. A bad case of 'One More Row' Syndrome soon set in, and it was finished in a matter of days. It's turned out to be a joyous thing to wear too - cosy and warm around my neck in the chilly Autumn weather. The joyousness of this scarf has even been independently verified by a young lad with learning disabilities, who  approached me out of the blue in the chemist's to ask for a hug (we settled for an elbow bump, what with Covid and all). Having thus introduced himself, he then gestured enthusiatically at the scarf, and exclaimed "You look so smart!". His Mum came rushing over to retrieve him, a bit flustered and apologetic, but I thought it was a lovely moment. It's always nice to meet a kindred spirit from the Scarf Appreciation community.
The only fly in the ointment of my joy is that I really don't 'need' another scarf...especially not another rainbow/blue stripey scarf...
...or even another ZickZack scarf, come to that.
I can tell myself they're all (ever so slightly) different, and that I do 'need' plenty of scarves now that my hair is so short and my neck is always so cold, but the truth is that some of them are going to have to be rehomed in the very near future, because not knitting is not an option, and neither is ignoring the problem. Fortunately I do have Christmas-present-knitting to keep me occupied for the next month or two, and I'm also pondering a make-it-up-as-I-go-along-crazy-stripey-jumper to use up a chunk of my stash, so the cull doesn't have to happen immediately. I just have to stick to the 
'Trying Not To Buy More Yarn' rule and introduce a very strict 'One Out One In' scarf rule in the meantime. 

In other news, they mowed all the long meadow grass at the park a few weeks ago and turned it into two big hay bales, which have been left at the bottom of one of the fields. The XXSCat dog was very grumpy about this to begin with, as she hates to see anything out of the ordinary on her daily perambulations (this includes workmen on ladders, fallen trees, anything blocking the pavement, and (obviously) postmen). She barked her head off the first time she encountered them, and gave them an extremely wide berth. 

The following day, after a lot of chuntering and swearing under her breath, she got close enough for a cautious sniff, and reluctantly conceded that they were "probably harmless". Now she just ignores them. I, on the other hand, am obsessed by them, because beautiful little hare's foot inkcap mushrooms (according to Google Lens) have started pushing through the surface of the wet hay. 

They have a very short life-span, going from fluffy hare's foot... inky black cap...
...gently liquifying...
...until they melt away, within the space of 24 hours...
...but if you happen to be there at just the right moment...
...they are stunningly beautiful, like miniature spun glass sculptures, when the sun shines through them.

Sunday, 26 September 2021

...tiny girls

  • One of my former colleagues gave birth to a tiny baby girl three months ago, after enduring several heart-breaking years of IVF treatment. This week I'm going to be meeting the 'miracle baby' for the first time, and I wanted to take a little gift along with me. I'm a knitting pattern magpie at the best of times, so when I saw this knitted top over on the 'Three Stories High' blog a couple of weeks ago, I had the perfect excuse to add it to my library. "Like Sleeves" is a cosy pullover tunic, very simple to knit - which can be made in two pieces and seamed together or knitted in the round. I followed the advice of other knitters on Ravelry, who had changed the neckband to plain stocking stitch, which creates a rolled edge to hide the  loose cast off (needed to ensure the top will fit over the baby's head). I think if/when I make it again I'll do a garter stitch border at the bottom to match the 'sleeves'.
  • This week I finally assembled the remaining bits and pieces (wooden beads and skewers, sand) I needed to be able to make this adorable pin cushion, designed by the fabulous Ann Wood. I'm a huge fan of Ann's work - she is incredibly generous with her creativity, offering many free patterns on her website, always accompanied with clear step-by-step instructions and photos. The only tricky bit of the assembly (for me) was joining the circular base to the body. I stitched the seam by hand to begin with, but was worried that the sand 'stuffing' might leak out, so I carefully overstitched it on the sewing machine afterwards. I also used iron-on interfacing to line the body and protect against sand leakage. Ann recommends using crushed walnut shells for stuffing, but this is difficult to source/extortionately priced in the UK! My little pin girl is going to be a birthday present for a friend. I wanted her to have a 'vintage' cottage-garden feel, so I added some little felt flowers to a couple of pins for extra decoration. She looks perfect sitting next to the Alfred Meakin tea-cup on my shelf, and I will be rather sad to see her go!
  • In other news, we have passed the Autumn Equinox, the leaves are falling and dusk comes earlier every day. This year I'm going to try to make the most of the darker, colder months by focussing on enjoying time spent indoors rather than dwelling on the absence of light...and I'm going to take my Vitamin D supplements too!


Thursday, 16 September 2021

...waste not, want not

Just before I retired one of my friends at work asked if I had any use for an old pair of worn out  jeans - e.g. for patching/repairing other denim items. She is a keen recyclist, and she was reluctant to just throw them away. So I said I would take them off her hands, along with some linen ties she had cut off a set of cushion pads.

I'd originally thought I would get rid of the cushion ties when I got home, but it turns out I find it almost as hard to dispose of other people's unwanted belongings as I do my own. ["Hello, friend's Mum's embroidered linen tablecloths/friend's woven throw/friend's bag of fabric remnants, I'm talking about you!"] So they stayed in the bag with the jeans and were added to the little pile of denim remnants on the sewing shelf.

Fast forward five months and the same friend's 50th birthday was approaching. I thought I'd take a look at the jeans and see if they really were beyond repair, as she had mentioned that they'd been favourites. Both knees had gone, and the inner leg seams and hems were also thin and frayed. It would have been a mammoth job to patch them up, and I wasn't sure if she would wear crazy patched-up jeans, so I decided to repurpose them into the next best thing - an Extra Pocket Bag.
I used the rear pocket area for the back of the bag, with a tiny bit of patching in the top corner where the belt loop had been. Even though the fabric was quite worn and thin, the new cotton lining gave it plenty of reinforcement. I added a little applique and embroidery to the front of the bag (because more is always more in my world), and then carefully unpicked and joined the ends of five of the cushion ties to make the handle. Although it was a little fiddly and time-consuming, I thought my friend would appreciate the fact that they had been put to use and it certainly pleased me to return them to her in an upcycled form! 

So here it is - Extra Pocket Bag Version 8!