Saturday, 10 April 2021 Extra Pocket Bag

Extra Pocket Bag
Definition: A simple rectangular bag, dimensions similar to a decent-sized pocket, with a long strap allowing it to be worn securely across the body. 

I am not a handbag aficionado. In my world bags are for lugging essential stuff from A to B when pockets are not big enough or available, so the bags I own are as follows: one leather satchel-like manbag bought from the Next for Men section (sturdy, practical, but quite heavy); one medium-sized lightweight canvas shoulder bag with 50 million pockets (I once literally lost my car-keys in it because they had inadvertently found their way into a pocket within a pocket that I didn't know existed); and (see below) one black, crocheted-with-sequins, 'going out' bag, bought from Accessorize 30+ years ago (so technically 'vintage'), which is just big enough for keys, phone, money, an eyeliner pencil and a little mirror.

I love this bag. It's a little faded, but still going strong, and it is a fine example of what I call the 'Extra Pocket Bag' - in fact , it actually goes above and beyond, because it has a zip top for extra security. No-one wants to lose their favourite eyeliner pencil on a wild night out!

At some point a few years ago I decided to knit myself a casual version of my beloved Extra Pocket Bag, using some denim-coloured cotton yarn from the stash. Very plain, stocking stitch with a garter stitch edging and an i-cord strap, it hung around in a nearly-finished state in my work basket until Covid 19 came along and I realised it would be perfect for weekly shopping trips - just the right size for a shopping list and pen, my phone, card wallet, a mask and a little bottle of hand sanitiser. So I finished the i-cord strap, made a simple patchwork lining to help it keep its shape, and it has done absolutely sterling duty all year. Every time I leave the house I just slip it over my head and I'm ready to go. So when my friend said, on a recent socially-distanced dog-walk, "I need a little bag like that!", I immediately said, "Well, I'll make you one!"
I could have knitted a similar one to mine, but all the mask-making I've done over the past year has left me with lots of pretty cotton scraps, and I've recently discovered a wildly enthusiastic lady on YouTube who posts brilliant videos about how to use up even the tiniest fabric remnants in all sorts of creative ways. I could watch these videos all day, but it's even more fun to DIY, so the little Extra Pocket Bag below, made with crumb patchwork panels on either side and a stripey lining, came together really quickly in a just a couple of hours. Simple, but effective, and ever so useful!

Monday, 5 April 2021

...messages from the Universe

I'm not really a big believer in the whole "messages from the Universe" shtick, so perhaps this post should have been titled 'Serendipitous Moments' instead. Suffice it to say that we went for a walk yesterday (new to us, recommended by family) that delivered a couple of those happy little happenstances.

The Easter Sunday weather was glorious - very sunny but with that crisp, early Spring chilliness in the air (in other words, perfect weather for walking). The route took us along a narrow strip of land between the river and the canal. The picture below gives a completely false impression - it looks just like an idyllic country lane doesn't it? As long as you looked straight ahead, it really could have been - complete with cheerful birdsong and rippling river noises in the background. In reality if you looked right (across the canal), or left (across the river), there were long, intermittent stretches of fenced off industrial buildings and wasteland visible throught the trees on both sides. It reminded me a bit of a documentary I saw about Chernobyl - in a 'nature prevailing in the face of man-made destruction' kind of way. The other thing missing from this photo is the constant stream of joggers and cyclists coming at us from both directions - it's quite miraculous that there isn't at least one other person in view here! 

Moment 1: I have lived for nearly six decades and can honestly say that in all that time I have never encountered (or perhaps, more accurately, noticed) the amazing pom-pom loveliness that is Goat Willow blossom in Spring. There were dozens and dozens of these trees along the route and I must have stopped to take a photo at nearly every one of them. So delicate, so unusual, so beautiful! I don't know how I've reached such a ripe old age without knowing that those familiar silver-grey-velvet 'cat's paw' buds transform into such flamboyant flowers.
There were plenty of the more traditional blossoming trees doing their best 'sunshine through petals and new leaves' to entice me, but the Goat Willow absolutely stole the show. Once seen, never forgotten.
Moment 2: About two thirds of the way into the walk the path crossed under the motorway, the massive bridge creating a soaring roof space below, like an open air secular cathedral, flanked by huge graffiti-embellished concrete pillars. 
Maybe it was something to do with the quality of light streaming in, the sunshine giving the cool grey columns a soft peachy glow, but I thought it was absolutely beautiful...and then we spotted the little mosaic below, which someone had cemented onto one of the pillars, and it just seemed like such a perfect message for such a perfect day.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

...four years later

The end of March marks the fourth anniversary of this blog, started as a way of tracking my creative endeavours. Although there are always a few things that get made and given away before I have time (remember) to take a photo, I still feel a sense of achievement when I look back over what I've done in the past year: mask-making (literally hundreds), knitting (hats, scarves, mitts, a jumper and a baby blanket), needle-felting (brooches and a Snork-maiden), doll-making, doll's-house furnishing, fabric-painting (lavender sachets and #the100dayproject), sewing (6 tops, 2 mastectomy cushions, a brooch and a rope bag), pebble-painting, and underpinning it all, loads of photography. Not bad for a spare-time dabbler! 

The end of March 2021 also marks a new milestone/beginning for me. I'm now retired (at least temporarily, to see how it goes) and will hopefully have a lot more time for making (along with all the other things that used to get squished into weekends and annual leave). I'm hoping that this time next year I might have found a focus - that there might be something that bubbles to the top of the idea soup in my brain and gives me a real sense of direction - but then again, maybe I'll just continue enjoying all of the things and dabble on a full-time basis! Watch this space...


Saturday, 20 March 2021

...reaching goals

Today is Day 49 of the 100 day project I started at the end of January, and I still can't quite believe I've managed to complete a square every single day since then! Some days I really, really have to drag myself to my workdesk, and some days I don't even like the finished square, but one of my rules is that it's ok not to like it, I just have to do it!

I do quite like the fact that I now have a growing stack of fabric squares that can be used for other projects - whether as a small-scale experiment in technique/effect or as a source material for something else. I scanned  the (middle right) roses and the (bottom left) daffodils in the top photo to make cards for my Mum and my mother-in-law on Mother's Day, and I'm thinking of framing 'Buddy' the blackbird (middle bottom, bottom photo) and hanging him on the wall!

I'm not so happy about the utter carnage on my workdesk. I haven't tidied it in weeks, mainly because my retirement date is nearly here and I'm planning to have a massive Spring Clean and De-clutter when it arrives! Next week is my last full week at work, and then there will be just three more days to go until I reach the start of the rest of my life! I'm working long hours every day to make sure nothing is left for others to deal with when I'm gone, so by the time I sit down to do a square I'm too tired to worry about the chaos around me and just focus in on the tiny area in front of me. Thank goodness I chose to work on only 2.5 inch squares!

Saturday, 27 February 2021

...#twopointfiveinchsquares and two triangular square hats

Yesterday was Day 27 of The 100 Day Project - the Instagram-based creative challenge I set myself nearly 4 weeks ago. I'm surprised and proud to report that I've actually managed to sit down every single day and come up with 'something' to fill a 2.5 inch square of cotton fabric with. I like some squares better than others, and it bothers me a bit that there's such a mish-mash of styles rather than a coherent 'signature' look, but I'm telling myself that it doesn't matter, I'm only a quarter of the way through the project, and who knows where I'll be with it all when I get to Day 100. The important thing is that I have lots of little green shoots of ideas poking their way through the top-soil of my imagination, which is what I hoped would happen, because I'm going to be a retired person in four and a half weeks, and I will need plenty of projects to keep me busy!
In between winding down at work (starting to tie up loose ends before I leave) and doing my daily squares I've also been knitting voraciously, most recently making a couple of 'Blunk The Hat' hats, ingeniously designed by Martina Behm. I can't begin to comprehend how she came up with this pattern - it makes my brain hurt to even try to imagine -  but suffice it to say that it's amazing how one big knitted triangle, one big knitted square and two little knitted squares can come together seamlessly to make a one-of-a-kind custom-fitted hat. This pattern works for any sized head (newborn to adult), using any kind of yarn. The two below were made from 4-ply sock yarn (top) and DK yarn (bottom), and I absolutely love them both. [Thanks to my daughter for agreeing to model the DK version on one of our daily park walks - so much easier than trying to take a selfie of the top of my own head!] 


Saturday, 6 February 2021

...the 100 day project

A third lockdown is wearing on
Another snowfall has been and gone
Daylight lasts longer every day

I was catching up with Ann Wood's wonderful blog a couple of weeks ago. In her most recent post she recommended the online (Instagram) 100 Day Project as a potential way of getting into the habit of daily creative practice. Since I'm early-retiring at the end of March*, I thought this might be a good way to start (now) as I mean to go on (then). 

I really enjoyed painting the fabric for my patchwork lavender sachets before Christmas, so after a fair bit of pondering about what my project should be, I ended up ordering a little stack of pre-cut 2.5" cotton fabric squares, with the idea that I would embellish one per day in whatever medium (sewing, embroidery, fabric paint/pens/crayons) took my fancy.
I signed up to the project (it's completely free to join in, but you can also opt to subscribe to newsletters and daily prompts for a small fee) and created an individual hashtag for myself (#twopointfiveinchsquares) on Instagram. The project offically started on January 31st, but I think it's the type of personal challenge one can set oneself at any point - the main idea is to do a little something every day for 100 days.
I've completed my first six squares (below), just experimenting with different combinations of fabric inks, paints, pens and crayons, to get a feel for how they behave on the cotton. I already know that my ironing board cover is going to be ruined by the end of the 100 days, as I'm keeping the iron handy to 'set' things as I go and the inks have a tendency to run! I've been using photos I've taken/things I've noticed during the day as source of inspiration for my little doodles. Observations so far:
  • Daily practice is a real struggle for me! Maybe because I'm still working full-time during the day and I'm tired by evening, which is when I've been doing my squares. By day four I was having to force myself to go and sit at my workdesk rather than just slumping in front of the TV. 100 days is going to be a real mountain to climb!
  • Self-imposed rules are necessary to combat perfectionism (only one square of fabric allowed per day, regardless of whether or not I'm happy with the result).
  • I enjoy thinking about what the day's image will be, and 'nature' is the recurring theme!
When I haven't been doodling I've been knitting - yet another Antler Toque - for myself this time. It's been sooooo cold lately, I felt I needed a really warm, chunky hat, and this pattern definitely delivers that! The background fabric is a duvet cover I bought in the Asda sale for dressmaking purposes. A single duvet cover provides around 4 metres of fabric - an absolute  bargain for just £7!

*Hooray! Hooray! Hooray!

Saturday, 23 January 2021

...winter knitting

Things got decidedly wintery around here during the past week or so. There were fabulous crystalline frost formations on the grass at the park... Dad requested a new woolly hat because his old one was no longer snug enough to keep the wind from whistling round his ears, so another Antler Toque flew off my needles...
...the sunrise turned the steam from the old mill building chimney-vent a beautiful shade of peach against the soft blue sky...
... I knitted myself a Miss Marple Scarf, which I've worn indoors and out like a constant, cosy hug around my neck...
...then the temperature rose a few degrees and the snow was gone, almost overnight, as quickly and silently as it had arrived.