Sunday 21 April 2024

...William the Whimsical Waltzing Mouse

Towards the end of last year the Instagram algorithm introduced me to the work of a wonderful artist - Rosanna Dell. I was absolutely entranced by the delightful little creatures she was making from cotton wool, PVA glue, pipe cleaners and florist's wire, and thrilled when she generously made a "how-to" tutorial for Youtube. It's my sister's 50th birthday this week, and she has been saying for a long time that she would like me to make her something mouse-themed after she saw the little felt mouse and the little needle-felted mouse that live in my mouse-house.
So I decided to make her a Rosanna-inspired mouse as a present. At first I struggled with the materials - cotton wool and sticky fingers don't mix terribly well, and I kept accidentally pulling bits off in one area whilst adding to another - but I eventually managed to produce a basic mouse shaped figure... 
...and after leaving it to dry on the clothes-airer above the dehumidifier overnight, things got an awful lot easier. Being patient and allowing things to dry between layers is definitely the way to go with this medium. Cotton wool mixed with glue actually functions like a very fine, very responsive papier mâché - it is surprisingly sturdy (though very lightweight) when it dries, and once you have that basic shape to build on, you're away. The texture is perfect for creating a soft, furry effect, and as soon as  you start adding colour (and some little beady eyes) the whole thing comes to life. Look at that plump little mouse belly, and those paper-thin little mouse ears!
I'm not sure where the idea for a daisy chain garland initially came from - although I know the "how to" aspect of it came to me in the shower one morning (the shower is where most of my best "how-to" thinking occurs). I have a paper punch that cuts little eight-petal-flower shapes, so I figured that I could glue two together in an offset position with a strand of embroidery floss sandwiched between them to make perfect little daisies, with sunshine yellow centres and delicate pink-tipped petals. I coated the 'stems' with a PVA and water mix to stiffen them up and stop them unravelling when I threaded the 'chain' together. 

The final touch was a bunch of daisies tied with a tiny piece of pink ribbon, and my happy little mouse, full of the joys of Spring was complete. 
All that remained was to have a photo-shoot in the garden against a back-drop of forget-me-nots, violets and bluebells...

...and to give him a name - because at some stage along the way it became apparent that he was a 'he' - a name in keeping with the air of solid dependability underpinning his sprightly demeanour and obvious theatrical flair... William!

Thursday 11 April 2024

...Winter into Spring

  • At the beginning of February I finished this jolly little pram blanket and popped it in the post to a family friend's new baby girl. This was such an enjoyable project, I was really sad when it ended. Since I took up crochet again in 2021, after a nearly 50 years gap, I've become quite the granny square addict. I love the way they allow you to play with colour combinations and use up odds and ends of yarn too. I think there's a bit of a retro 1970s vibe going on here with the 'clashing' purply-blues and oranges adding a bit of a zing to the raspberry pink and softer peaches-and-cream shades. I kept thinking about Play School while I was making it!
  • After the Autumn pumpkin hat and the Christmas pudding hat, the Gorgeous Grandson needed a cosy Spring hat to keep him warm through the March winds and April showers. I used this pattern and some leftover Stylecraft yarn (Pistachio and Duck Egg) to make this cute little stripy ribbed number.   
  • I've been trying to do a bit of painting and drawing lately - just doodling really, and working from memory rather than life. Sometimes photographs don't capture what I'm 'seeing' - the colours or shapes that grab my attention. This process also helps me to move away from the pressure of realism - because I'm drawing on images in my mind's eye rather than focussing on objects directly in front of me. .
  • I really enjoyed making this top-down seamless Spring jumper for the GG. It's a lovely, simple design sized for babies aged 0-24 months, and I will definitely be making a few more of these. Not least because my eldest son and his wife are expecting a baby boy in September - I'm going to be in full-on Grandma knitting and crochet heaven!
  • In March we had three nights away in a tiny cottage just outside Alnmouth. We explored Amble and Warkworth on the first full day...
...drove up the coast to my beloved Seahouses on the second day (so cold and windy that we popped the XXS Cat dog in the rucksack to give her a break from the scouring sand in her face), and then spent a happy morning at the wonderful Tynemouth Station Market on the way home. We keep talking about re-locating to Northumberland "one day", but with increasingly frail parents and the arrival of gorgeous grandchildren it's really just a pipe dream to be living North of the Angel.  
  • I started a second Nuuk jumper in January, but it languished for weeks in a half-finished state because I wanted to complete the neck ribbing before trying it on to check the body length, and I just couldn't face the neck ribbing task! I absolutely hate picking up neckline stitches because I haven't found a fool-proof way of doing it evenly enough to meet my (self-imposed) perfectionist standards. This pattern simply says "pick up 92 stitches around neckline", and leaves it to the knitter to decide how they should be distributed. In the end I forced myself to sit and count how many stitches I thought there were around the neck (102) and then did ten K2tog at evenly spaced intervals as I went round, to arrive at the required 92. It actually turned out ok (if not absolutely perfect), and was finished by the following day - just in time for the warmer weather that's no doubt coming soon! Sigh...

  • In other news the park is turning green around the edges... 
...and two odd-looking wooden mice came home with me from the charity shop this week, for the princely sum of 50p. I'm trying really hard to de-clutter, rather than continue adding to the "stuff", but sometimes the heart wants what the heart wants and resistance is simply futile.

Sunday 21 January 2024

...Christmas and beyond

Christmas 2023 was a bit of a fail from a Making perspective (although it went pretty smoothly in every other respect). I had so many ideas for All the Things that I out-faced myself and ended up in a state of creative paralysis - a Jill of All Trades and Mistress of None! This year I am going to Make a List and Start Early (ho-ho-ho). That way maybe my daughter will actually get her knitted gnome with an assortment of festive hats, my sister will get the carol-singing needle-felted mice, and there will be handmade Christmas tree decorations all round! Sigh...

Christmas Wins:

Debbie Bliss Striped Top for the Gorgeous Grandson, pattern taken from her classic Baby Knits book. My youngest child is 31 this week, which means I've had the book for over 30 years and the patterns are just as timeless and wearable as ever!
A pretty, ruffly 'Rose Smiles' scarf for my soon-to-be-daughter-in-law. This was a last-minute win snatched from the jaws of failure. I actually knitted the scarf in November, basking in the warm glow of my excellent forward thinking, and then forgot all about it until Christmas-Eve-Eve, when I suddenly remembered that it still needed blocking and wrapping to be ready to give her the following day. I was literally weaving in ends whilst it was pinned to the blocking mat, and had to finish the drying process with a hairdryer. It's a minor Christmas Miracle that I managed to snap a couple of hasty photos...
Christmas Fails:

I bought this book in June... 
...and had plans to make cute little needle-felted gingerbread houses (top right hand corner) for EVERYONE. I ended up with just ONE tiny, oddly shaped, pyramid/house ornament/thing that my best friend was kind enough to actually thank me for, although it really didn't merit any gratitude! Thank goodness for the lovely M&S bear-shaped chocolate "hugs" I  was able to sweeten that particular pill with!
I slaved for hours over this mosaic-framed mirror for my Mother-in-Law, and got it all the way to the grouting stage a couple of days before it needed to be wrapped and ready, but my husband had a crisis of confidence about whether she would like it, so we ended up buying her something else. I don't really mind (because I like it myself and am happy to keep it) but it is now languishing in "unfinished object corner", needing the final film of grout to be cleaned and polished from the ceramic pieces. I've completed the bottom right hand corner, and know it will be lovely when it's finished, but the wind of urgency has definitely left my sails. Watch this space... 
Post-Christmas Progress:

New Year, New Projects. Accept the things you cannot change, tomorrow is another day, the past is a foreign country etc., etc. With this in mind, in January (so far) I have made another Debbie Bliss striped top for the GG, because he is knitworthy and beautiful... is my daughter's best friend's baby who has just turned one! He received a classic ribbed birthday hat in shades of blue to match his big blue eyes...
...and my son's best friend has had a baby girl, so she will be receiving this jolly crocheted pram blanket just as soon as I can hook my way through it. All of these projects have been made from stash yarn, which is very pleasing to me, in this traditional season for de-cluttering. It also has to be acknowledged that they have barely made a dent in the yarn mountain, but we're moving in the right direction one baby-step at a time!

Wednesday 13 December 2023

...a quick round-up

I really don't know where the last couple of months have gone! It feels like I've been wading through treacle whilst, simultaneously, the days have been zipping by in a blur. I've been meaning to do a blog-post for weeks but also thinking "I have nothing to show for the time that's passed". Obviously I've been busy - looking after the Aged Parents, visiting the Gorgeous Grandson, enduring a second round of Covid after a weekend away with the In-Laws, taking the Poorly XXSCat dog to the vet, and supporting the Harrassed Husband who is going through a particularly Tough Time at work - I just haven't felt able to focus much energy on the creative stuff that I like to keep track of here, and that always brings out the Eeyore in me, and makes me sad. So today my inner Pollyanna is here with a little "Note to Self" that while I might not have much to show for the time that's passed, I do still have something!
  • One thing I always have time for is photography. Autumn into Winter is a wonderful time of year for colour - whether it's vibrant and glowing, or muted and monochrome. For me, at the moment, there is really nothing more beautiful than the low Winter sun shining through fallen leaves. I'm at the park most days with the XXSCat dog, and I always come home with a virtual handful of visual treasures.

  • I started this simple stripy jumper for my grandson way back in November, and it is driving me nuts how long it is taking me to complete it. I think it's the prospect of sewing it together that's making me drag my feet - or rather fingers?! I'm a top-down, seamless knitter by preference nowadays. Fortunately I opted for size 6-12 months, so if I can force myself to get it done soon he should still get some wear out of it (he's a big, tall 5-months-old already). I bought this book (Debbie Bliss's 'Baby Knits') when his Daddy was a baby, and it's an absolutely timeless classic!
  • No sooner were the Pumpkin hats completed than the Christmas Pudding hats were requested. One each for Grandson and my daughter's friend J's baby. I really enjoyed making these - they are slightly adapted versions of this pattern - as previously mentioned, I'm a big fan of Debbie Bliss!
  • I had a smashing time with the hammer yesterday when I started work on a mosaic border for a little square wood-framed mirror (originally from Ikea) that my daughter was getting rid of. It's going to be a Christmas present for my M-i-L. I'm using the fruits and flowers edging from an old dinner plate I'd saved in my mosaic stash in the garage, and a couple of cracked/chipped blue and white china teacups I bought from Ebay. I'm thinking of breaking a mirror tile so that I can add some sparkling/reflective chips into the mix, but I'm just not sure who the seven years' bad luck will be applied to - the maker or the recipient! Fortunately, neither one of us is superstitious, so fingers crossed we'll be ok...

Thursday 12 October 2023

...making season

We're rapidly approaching that time of year when all the things on my "Ooh! I want to make that!" List and my "Finish this before you start anything else!" List should start to give way to my Christmas "Make these to give as presents!" List. I'd love to think that this year I might be a little more organised, but based on the hodge-podge of my recent makes it seems unlikely...
  • I saw (and instantly coveted) someone else's version of the Nuuk pullover waaaaay back in August, and it shot like a rocket to Number One on my "Ooh! I want to make that!" List. Knitted top down, seamless, and practically sleeveless, in aran/worsted weight yarn, I recognised it as the kind of project that I - a knitter with a long and harrowing history of failure-to-complete when it comes to adult-sized garments - could possibly maybe almost certainly commit to. So I committed. I bought the yarn, I cast on, and I started knitting. At the beginning of September (just as the belated heat-wave hit) I actually finished it!
There were some wobbles along the way. I ended up completing the collar ribbing before the body was done, because the task of picking up stitches neatly and evenly around a neckline is my knitting Nemesis (although picking up stitches for button-bands would come a very close second). I know, from bitter experience, that if the collar isn't perfect then I will never be happy with the finished garment, so I figured it was better to know at an early stage whether my Nuuk was going to be "wearable" or not. It took me forever to arrive at the required number of evenly spaced stitches on my needles, and I actually got all the way to the point of casting off the collar and weaving in the ends before deciding that I needed to unravel it all and try again, because the right hand side didn't quite match the left! Perfectionism is such a curse!

I also struggled a bit with the problem of joining in new balls of yarn - the downside of seamless knitting is that there are no seams to hide the ends in. I decided to just make all the joins at the sides, where the seams would have been, reasoning that this was the least obvious place for the weaving in of ends to happen. I was quite proud of myself for seeing my Nuuk through to completion (mostly because it had also gone straight to Number One on my "Finish this before you start anything else!" List), but I had to wait for cooler October weather to actually wear it, because it is very cosy and warm - like a knitted full body hug! 

  • Then (in a gratuitous departure from the official List system) came yet another upcycled-duvet-cover Wiksten Top. I had quite a lot of jolly floral fabric left over after making my Elizabeth Shannon Apron earlier this year, and I wanted something "new" for my birthday weekend away, so it was a no-brainer to re-purpose the remnants to expand my Wiksten Top collection. I used some blue chambray scraps to line the contrasting fold-back cuffs, and made the patch pockets from a fat quarter of similarly coloured, ditsy patterned fabric. I don't think I will ever grow tired of this simple, comfortable, utilitarian design!

  • Next, the "Make these to give as presents!" List grew ever so slightly longer, when my daughter 'commissioned' me to make a pumpkin hat for her best friend J's baby, "in plenty of time before Halloween" - i.e. ready for early October. After a lot of deliberation and intensive trawling through the free patterns on Ravelry, I settled on this pattern by Drops Design, modified slightly by the inclusion of some crocheted 'tendrils' around the base of the stem. I naturally had to make a second (smaller) one for my grandson too - because who can resist a tiny person in a pumpkin hat?! 
Here is J's little boy in the pumpkin patch - effortlessly demonstrating his commitment to knitworthiness by posing on the blanket I made for him when he was born! 
  • Once the hats were completed I really should have turned my attention to the official (Christmas) "Make these to give as presents!" List, but my head was turned by this pattern from the "Ooh! I want to make that!" List instead. I have to confess that I didn't actually purchase Leah's pattern for this scarf, because I figured I could improvise something similar all by myself. So I just cast on 32 stitches and made it up as I went along. I got about this far into the project...
...before the constant stopping every few rows to weave in dozens of ends started driving me ever so slightly crazy. Rather than abandoning the project altogether, I chose to accept my limitations, and turn the scarf into a neck-warmer/cowl, instead. I persevered with the stop-knitting-start-weaving process until it reached the appropriate length, and then grafted the ends together. At this point I realised that the knitted 'fabric' had a tendency to flop and fold in on itself, so I decided to add a scrappy garter stitch lining, for extra warmth and structure. Once it was the right size I crocheted the two pieces together along the top and bottom edges, and my new 'go-to' Winter accessory was born! It's possibly a little ruff-like in effect (the lining actually provides a little too much structure), but I'm sure it will get softer and  squishier over time..., back to that "Make these to give as presents!" List.

Friday 1 September 2023

...tempus fugit (August)

  • At the start of the month we "discovered" a little gem of a place less than twenty minutes up the road from where we live - Oakwell Hall & Country Park. Having lived in the same area for 35 years, it's crazy to think that we could have a 110 acre public space complete with woodland walks, nature trails, cafes, a walled garden and a gift shop, practically on our doorstep and not be aware of its existence...but it turns out that truth really is stranger than fiction. We had a lovely ramble through the woods and fields just to get our bearings and figure out the lie of the land for future visits...  
...and then called at the cafe for a cup of coffee and a cheeky KitKat. Although I'd have to vacate the premises, never to return, if I ever saw a rat in my house, I quite enjoyed watching this sleek-looking youngster vying with the sparrows for some fallen cake crumbs by a neighbouring bench (wisely giving the rat bait station next to the cafe a very wide berth). My husband was not at all impressed by my reasoning that in a rural, outdoor setting (i.e. not inside my house) it's basically just a squirrel without the floofy tail, isn't it?!

  • On the home front, August was a great month for daily mini-harvests of carrots, tomatoes, blueberries, raspberries and blackberries from the garden. There's nothing I like more than a little handful of home-grown goodness to start the day - most of it gathered from pots and containers just outside the back door - fast food at its finest! 
  • In my ongoing personal quest to find the best pinafore/tunic/apron pattern for layering over and under things all year round, I made myself a Sew Liberated Studio Tunic from charity-shop-bought curtain fabric. This is a really well-designed pattern, very enjoyable to sew, and very comfortable to wear. I absolutely LOVE the massive pockets - they're a complete game-changer in those moments where you have something to take upstairs, or put away, or 'deal with in a minute', because you can just slip whatever it is (phone, 'to-do' list, book, secateurs, wool, empty cup etc.) into your pocket rather than putting it down, forgetting about it and/or having to hunt for it later.
From a purely perfectionist point of view I think I 'messed up' with the right hand pocket by (a) cutting the first one from an area of fabric with a big stain in the middle, then (b) absent-mindedly cutting a left hand pocket to replace it, thus leaving myself (c) just enough fabric for a third and final attempt, which resulted in a rather obvious (to me) pattern repetition front and centre (the cluster of orange berries). I also think I need to come down a size or two when (not if) I make another. I like my clothes to be loose fitting/comfortable, and it's designed to be very 'roomy', but when you could probably slip a padded jacket underneath it and still have wriggle room you know you've gone too far!

  • In mid-August I discovered that a dozen or more spiders had set up a crèche around the inside rim of my garden-waste wheelie-bin. I lifted the lid to put some grass cuttings and ivy trimmings in, and they all clasped their little blue egg-sacs to their bosoms in horror, and clung on for dear life. I really agonised about whether to put the bin out for collection that week, but I wasn't sure how long the incubation stage would be, and the bin was pretty full. I did a few emergency practice drills with them over the next few days, opening and closing the lid from time to time, and in the end most of them lived to tell the tale of the Great Rumbling and Tumbling Upside-Down Earthquake Adventure on the day the bin lorry came...

...and then just two weeks later, by the time the next bin collection was due, the spiderlings emerged from their sacs, and scampered away, leaving their poor dehydrated and exhausted mothers to finally rest, in peace...or rather to rest in peace, finally. 
Towards the end of the month we went to a little weekend craft market at Kirkstall Abbey. Some of the normally locked-off areas were open, so we had a wander through, admiring the skill and artistry that had gone into the ancient stonework...
...and I bought a clever little beaded spider at the fair. Goodness knows I love a recurring theme!
So to finish as I started, with a rodent sighting, I looked out of the kitchen window yesterday and spotted a parent mouse teaching a baby mouse how to access the coconut shell bird feeder in the hedge. My reaction to this was another example of my complete double standards when it comes to little furry creatures. Outside my house = 'delightful Beatrix Potter idyll', inside my house = 'waking nightmare, Lord of the Rings "You shall not pass!" scenario'. I know this is completely irrational, contradictory and capricious of me, but we are where we are. As long as they play along with my fantasy that they are 'outdoors mice, who live in the ivy on the garage', and as long as I don't find any droppings in the cupboard under the sink (or worse still catch sight of one scurrying across my kitchen floor late in the evening) then we can coexist in perfect harmony...but once that fragile illusion is shattered, as it occasionally is when the colder, darker, Autumn nights start drawing in, then the traps come out, battle lines are drawn, and the XXS Cat dog runs and hides in her bed upstairs, praying for Spring to come soon.